By guest author Janella Fox
I grew up in Twain Harte, a small mountain town in Northern California situated between Lake Tahoe and Yosemite. It is named for famed authors/poets Mark Twain and the lesser known Brett Harte who both spent time in and around the area during their careers. I recently returned to visit my mom who relocated to the area after years of living in Lake Tahoe. She is now living up near this small magical gem of a lake called Pinecrest that is just up the road from where I lived during my childhood. There was a small patch of sand between the forest and water's edge that functioned as a beach for me and my friends during our teenage years...on hot summer nights we would stay into the evening and watch movies projected onto a screen in the woods. I hadn't been back to the area for over 15 years and was overwhelmed with memories and gratitude for having called this place home while growing up.
My mom lives in a cozy little cabin in the woods just down the road from the lake. When I arrived and walked into her kitchen I discovered that she had been picking and harvesting elderberries! They are the tiniest little things, they resemble blueberries but are much smaller and are nearly impossible to see growing unless the large shrubs happen to be blossoming. My mom has always had a crazy hawk eye for spotting wild animals (owls, bears, bald eagles etc...) but I had no idea she was such a skilled elderberry hunter. She has all of her secret spots scoped out that she sends her husband to for him to go retrieve large batches from the branches which he manages to get down with a golf club and transports back to her in boxes and bags...her kitchen was overflowing with them, so she clearly had put him to work in the days before i arrived.
The elderflower is commonly used to make a syrup that has recently been popping up on cocktail menus (often mixed with champagne and other sippers). But I hadn't seen or had an actual elderberry since I was very young when we went out and gathered them to make a pie from. We only did this once but I'll never forget the unique and distinct flavor...a kind of perfect merge between a blackberry and blueberry with just enough tanginess to give it its own distinct flavor.
That night my mom and I spent hours pulling the tiny berries from the stems, filling bowl after bowl from which we made batch of jam. I managed to stash a bowl and transport it back to LA with me and made my first pie in years...I'm left wishing it was easier to find and pick berries here in LA. But I guess it's better considering I have one more reason to return to my little town in the woods.