Elderberry Curd Mandala Tart as Equinox Meditation
This time of year is all about balance. We are halfway between the bright sun-drenched days of the Summer Solstice and the long, cold nights of the Winter Solstice. It’s the height of harvest season, with gardens and markets and outdoor spaces bursting with nuts, fruit, squash and more. And yet, we are just starting to catch a whiff of the very first frost. Soon, seeing changing leaves bedecked in sparkling crystals on crisp morning walks will be a common sight and the last leaves will dance from the trees.
The Autumn Equinox (which falls on Sept. 22 this year) is a great time to evaluate your life and the balances that are important to you. We must clear some space for fall and winter’s restful times - both physically and metaphorically. Pack up your summer gear and put it away until next spring whispers to you to pull it out again. Clean out your closets and donate anything you don’t wear often enough. Let go of the message to do more or work faster and instead allow yourself to sink into the delicious focused slowness that feels so natural throughout fall.
One particularly rewarding activity to do this time of year is baking. If you allow yourself to sink into the process of creating delicious foods as an act of mindfulness or meditation, it can be incredibly centering (as well as delicious!) This elderberry curd tart with a crisp chocolate crust is the perfect recipe to celebrate this time of year. It’s filled with the bounty of wild berries and fruits, but has the complexity of fall. It’s rich, silky, and beautiful - the perfect dish for an Autumn Equinox gathering or party! I’ve re-vamped my elderberry curd tart to make it even more tempting.
A silky deep purple curd made from revitalizing elderberries nestles into a crunchy chocolate crust - ah, perfection! And it tastes even better after some mindful focus.
This is a recipe that will require your full attention, and that’s a GOOD THING. In fact, let’s approach it as a meditation. If you’ve foraged your own food before, you probably understand what I mean by that. If you haven’t, hopefully this will enlighten you a little bit! You see, many parts of foraging are tedious and repetitive. Finding your food in nature is only the first part - then you have to take it home for processing. Sometimes that means carefully cleaning the dirt out of mushroom gills, sometimes it means blanching your stinging nettle so you don’t get stung. In the case of this recipe, it means methodically plucking little purple berries off of their delicate stems. Embrace the process.
Elderberries are one of my favorite fruits. They are great for the immune system, and every winter I make some homemade cold medicine out of them. But my biggest love for elderberries comes not from their health benefits (of which there are many) but rather from their versatility and flavor! Raw, these berries don’t taste great… and that’s good, because they’re actually slightly toxic when eaten raw. They contain a compound that turns into cyanide in your digestive system. You should never eat more than one or two raw. The good news is that that compound breaks down very easily when the berries are cooked, so recipes like this one are completely safe. You just want to make sure you get as much stem out of the mix as possible.
Okay, now that that part is out of the way, back to the meditation. I’m going to begin with the processing step. It’s much easier to get elderberries off their stems if you freeze them first, which only takes about half an hour in a freezer. Then, sit down with a bowl and start plucking. You may want to challenge yourself to do this without any other distractions, and just get lost in the rhythmic ping-ing of the frozen berries falling into your bowl. It actually becomes really grounding and soothing if you let yourself focus on it entirely.
Once you have plenty of elderberries, you can start on the recipe:
Elderberry Curd Tart:
1 3/4 c. crushed chocolate grahams (about 1 package)
1 Tbs. flour
4 Tbs butter, melted.
1 Preheat oven to 350F. Whisk together everything but the butter until well combined, then drizzle the butter in and stir until the mixture holds together. If it’s still too crumbly, add a little cold water a little at a time and keep mixing.
2 Press the crumb mixture into a 9” pie plate or shallower tart pan. Make sure the bottom and sides have an even covering. Transfer to freezer and chill for 10 minutes, then place on a baking sheet and bake until crust is set and fragrant, about 10 minutes. Let cool completely before adding the filling.
2 c. elderberry juice (see directions below)
1/2 c. fresh lemon juice
4 egg yolks
1 c. sugar
1 Tbs. corn starch, optional
8 Tbs. butter, melted.
(A note: until recently, I didn’t realize you could make curds out of anything other than citrus fruits! My friend Devon from Nitty Gritty Life changed my mind with this recipe. Here’s my interpretation of a wild berry curd.)
1. To make the elderberry juice, put about 3 cups elderberries in a small saucepan and add half a cup of water. Bring to a simmer and let cook for 20 minutes, stirring and smashing the berries as it cooks. Strain through a kitchen strainer, pressing the berries to get all of the juice out of them as possible. Discard the seed and skins.
2. Combine the elderberry juice and lemon juice and place over medium heat in a small saucepan.
3. Meanwhile, whisk together the egg yolks and egg until well combined. Add the sugar and keep whisking until the mixture is a pale yellow color.
4. Stir a tiny bit of the hot elderberry mixture into the egg mixture, stirring continuously. Continue to add it in a small stream until half of it is incorporated, then scoop the egg-elderberry mixture back into the saucepan and place over medium heat.
5. Whisk constantly until the mixture can coat the back of a wooden spoon, about 10 minutes. You want it to be pretty thick at this point, about the consistency of kefir or runny yogurt. If it’s not thickening up enough after 15 minutes of stirring, mix the corn starch into a slurry with 1 tsp. of water, then pour it in the mixture and whisk well. Continue to cook until it reaches the desired consistency.
6. Remove from heat and stir in the melted butter. Let cool for a few minutes, then spoon into the prepared crust, cover in plastic wrap, and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. Once the tart is chilled, you can move on to the fun part!
Anything you want! Be sure to have at least 6 of any ingredient if you’ll be making a mandala design. Here’s what I used:
Frozen wild huckleberries
Sweet black grapes
sugared thyme sprigs
a little edible silver luster dust
Now, we’ll return to the meditative part of this process: creating a mandala. I find that it’s best to work in 8ths or 6ths. Gather all of your components before you begin, then take a few moments to get centered and grounded. Close your eyes, breathe in deeply a few times, and commit to being present. Once you feel grounded, start by placing one component around the circle, equally spaced. Then you can build off of that by adding other decorations above it, below it, or in between. With each component, speak aloud something you wish to bring into your life. For example, you might say “As I place these mint leaves, I wish for the cool clarity to see my problems from a new perspective.” or “As I place these plum slices, I wish for the fertility of mind to write better poetry.” This is when you can let your mind turn off and let your subconscious and creativity lead the way. It’s a satisfying feeling to surrender to the process. Once you’ve decorated your special tart and infused it with your wishes, serve it proudly and savor the work and love you put into it. It tastes even more delicious with friends.
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