May 21, 2012

By Chef John Zehnder, CEC, ACE, HGT, AAC

Growing prolifically in ditches and along the edges of woods, the elderberry bush has been used for centuries by Native Americans and early settlers as a food source and for its medicinal properties. While the unripened elderberries are mildly poison, the ripe fruits aren’t and are used to make juice, jelly and medicinal potions. Late May to mid-June in the Frankenmuth area is when elderberry bushes burst into full bloom with their fragrant white clusters of flowers.

The early Bavarian settlers in Frankenmuth would pick the highly scented blossoms and make them into a spring delicacy called “hollerkuchle”. It was tradition that young children were responsible for picking the elderberry blossoms and were given the first made hollerkuchles as a reward for their efforts. I remember as a young boy trudging through the backwoods with my father looking for pristine elderberry blossoms to make hollerkuchle. Never pick the ones alongside the road, my father would say, because of possible herbicides sprayed to kill weeds.

The Hollerkuchle recipe is from my great grandmother, passed down from my father. Makes it a recipe from the mid-1850’s and can be purchased from my cookbook of Zehnder’s Most Iconic Recipes.

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