Chokecherry, The Forgotten Fruit
(Editor's Note: This article was originally published on August 1, 2008. Your comments are welcome, but please be aware that authors of previously published articles may not be able to promptly respond to new questions or comments.)
The dog days of summer. Mid-August. Deer flies buzzing annoyingly around my head. Humidity you could cut with a knife. Cicadas sounding like chain saws high up in the trees. Even the birds are panting. Grampa and I are sitting under the White Pines in the yard, sweating profusely, trying to catch a non-existent breeze. Gramma comes out carrying a tray with tall, ice-filled glasses, a ruby red substance shimmering in the hot sun. We each grab a glass and drink deeply. Ahhhhh. Our thirst is quenched, we ask for refills, I ask what it was. Then I ask her to repeat herself. What??
Chokecherry vinegar. The most refreshing drink on a hot summer day.
Let's back up a few days and discover this amazing Cherry.
Prunus virginiana. Native to all of North America, except for the deep South, and hardy from Zones 2 to 7. Living up to its name, the Chokecherry, if eaten directly from the tree, will cause a choking sensation. Mouth puckeringly bitter.
I have picked them in open clearings, in sandy soil where nothing else grows, along the edges of fields. I have seen them along marshy areas, roadside ditches. They are not fussy. They will grow almost anywhere, in any kind of soil. The Cherries are formed in clusters and so very easy to pick. Hold a container under a cluster and gently place your hand above. Pull your hand down the cluster and they strip off with no trouble and fall tidily into the container.
Wait a minute, bitter cherries, tent caterpillars, not to mention that a broken branch with wilted leaves is poisonous to horses. The seeds(pits) are poisonous too. Not doing a very good job of convincing you of the benefits, am I? Let me work on that.
Their flowers are beautiful, they remind me of Butterfly Bushes. They have a strong, sweet frangrance reminiscent of almonds. Blooming after the leaves appear, they are attractive in the garden from mid-May through June. Their fruit provide excellent food for winter feeding birds. They were an extremely important crop to native north Americans, who dried the fruit in the sun and used them all through the winter.
Mostly it's about the fruit. My Grandma always had Chokecherry jams and jellies on hand. The infamous Chokecherry vinegar was always in the refrigerator.
This is the basic recipe I copied from my Grandmothers book, it doesn't vary much no matter where you look.
3 cups chokecherries
1 cup vinegar
1 cup water.
Mash the berries and pour the vinegar/water solution over them. They should be covered. Let them stand for 24 hours. Pour them in a saucepan and gently bring to a boil, boil for 5 minutes then strain through cheesecloth. Do not squeeze them through.
For each cup of juice add 1 cup of sugar. Bring to the boil again and boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat and let settle. Bottle and refrigerate for up to 6 months.
To serve...pour a couple tablespoons of the concentrate over ice and add club soda, sparkling water or your favourite clear soda. Nothing beats this as a refreshing drink on a hot summer day. I still make this concoction and I think of my Grandmother every time I drink it.
Don't dismiss the Chokecherry just because of its name. It is a versatile, thornless shrub with beautiful flowers in the spring and abundant food for birds in the winter. Tasty treats for the gardener can be made from its fruit as well. Hopefully, I have been successful in convincing you to at least consider them.
More delicious Chokecherry recipes.
Always be 100% sure of any wild fruits identity before eating.
Many thanks go to daryl, CaptMicha, kennedyh, poppysue and onewish1 for thir wonderful photo additions in Plant Files and bug Files.