Classic Mennonite Elderberry Pie

A couple of summers ago, I discovered that a plant I’d been studiously avoiding for years on my daily dog walks, was not the poisonous wild parsnip or giant hogweed I’d suspected it to be, but rather, a wild elderberry bush. And it turned out that there were hundreds of them!

I would never have figured this out if I hadn’t been writing about culinary history. I’d been given permission to include a recipe for Magdalena Buzzard’s classic Mennonite Elderberry Pie in Out of Old Ontario Kitchens and was seeking a source of elderberries to try out the recipe. While searching, I came across this magnificent botanical illustration in an Austrian book, dated 1828-1830.

12. Elderberries from Pharmaceutisch - medizinische Botanik by Daniel Wagner, 1828-1830. Vienna.

From: Pharmaceutisch – Medizinische Botanik by Daniel Wagner, 1828-1830. Vienna.

The next time I was out walking, I looked at the dangerous plants I’d been avoiding and realized they looked very much like the elderberry illustration. Using a plant identification app on my cellphone, I positively identified the plant as Sambucus canadensis – common elderberry.

I watched as the berries formed and then turned the classic dark purple. And even though I was now convinced that the plants were elderberry bushes, I was still a bit nervous.

But I forged onwards and harvested the elderberries, only to discover how much work de-stemming the tiny berries involved. Hours worth of work! But oh my – THAT PIE! That pie made it all worthwhile!

Elderberries are an incredibly potent source of antioxidants. They have anti-cancer, anti-diabetes, and anti-inflammatory effects; and have been used for hundreds of years by Indigenous Peoples for their multitudinous medicinal properties.

Wild elderberries are common throughout much of eastern North America and Europe and can be found growing along country roads, in old meadows and orchards, alongside open fields, and along walking trails in open patches.

I’ve made this pie twice and plan to make it again as soon as the berries ripen later this summer (typically mid-August to mid-September depending on the season). The berries are easy to pick (they grow in clusters) but time-consuming to de-stem. However, they are absolutely worth every second of effort involved. If you don’t want to pick your own, try checking your local farmers’ market for the berries starting in late summer. Elderberry farms are also starting to crop up. In my area – Eastern Ontario – watch for elderberries from Brass Point Farm beginning in 2020.

Just a quick note about where this recipe came from – Magdalena Buzzard (1871-1959) came from a Swiss-German Mennonite family that found its way to a farm in Waterloo County, Ontario. She was a busy farm wife and mother of twelve children and was by all accounts, a notoriously good cook. Her pie recipe and photograph is used here courtesy of her beautiful great grand-daughter, Deborah Cardiff. For more details, see Out of Old Ontario Kitchens.

Magdalena Buzzard (2nd-row centre), beside her husband Jonas Buzzard; with their twelve children, circa 1919.

13. Magdalena Buzzard and her 12 children

Magdalena Buzzard's Classic Mennonite Elderberry Pie

  • Difficulty: a fun challenge!
  • Print
  • pastry for a double-crust pie
  • 4-5 cups of elderberries (I settled on 4½ cups)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • pinch of cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup water (I may use slightly less in future)
  • “handful of flour” – I used 4 tbsp unbleached all-purpose flour)

Begin by lining a pie plate with pastry.
Mix the washed sorted berries with the sugar, cinnamon, water, and flour.
“Check for sweetness and add more sugar if necessary.” (I chose not to do this and the amount of sugar was perfect for my taste.)
Place the elderberry mixture into the unbaked pie crust.
Add the top crust and brush with a little milk and sprinkle with sugar.
“Kringle the pie crust edges together.” (I wasn’t sure what this meant but I usually use a fork to press my two layers of pastry together and create a seal.)
Cut some slits in the top of the pie for venting.
Bake at 350°F (175°C) until crust is browned and berry mixture is bubbling – about 45-60 minutes. Let stand an hour (or more) before serving.

 

2 thoughts on “Classic Mennonite Elderberry Pie

  1. Yummmm! We have a whole row of elderberry bushes (nearly trees) along our yard line and made elderberry wine once or twice and a pie, but you are right, a WHOLE bunch of work!! Now the birds love them, and as long as they don’t pass purple poo on our car, it is all good!

  2. What a fabulous post! I literally ate up every word! I know where some trees I suspect are elderberries are; i will pay more attention come summer! Hope you’re having a wonderful fall/autumn season.

    Mollie

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