I’ve promised, and tonight I will deliver. This is my first of three installments on what to do with those wonderous chokecherries. Aren’t you excited?
They’re really not fun to eat raw (although my children disagree). They’re quite bitter and their astringent qualities (more about that down below) tend to leave you with an unpleasant dryness in your mouth. So what do you do with them? Well, before you can do anything with them, you’ll need to turn them into juice. so as to separate the berry from the pits- ’cause y’all, those pits are… TOXIC!
Yep, you read that right- the pits, leaves, and bark of the chokecherry tree supposedly contain cyanide and can make you sick. One source even said DIE, but, I was like, really? Die from some chokecherry pits? I sure hope not, because the littles feast on them each summer when my back is turned, (naughty little buggers) pits and all, and the worse they’ve gotten is a bad case of the diarrhea. In fact, Lucas is in the middle of one of those bad cases right now because he Can’t . Stop. Eating. Them. And I try to remove all the ones that are within his reach, but he keeps finding more!
(insert megaphone) Step away from the cherry tree, Lucas.
*It has been proven to cause illness in goats, horses and dogs though. So keep the four legged creatures away. I found it interesting that each time my silly goat babies dunked under the fence to wander the property and wreak general havoc in only a way that curious goats can, they’d gnaw on just about all my shrubbery and trees around the vicinity of the chokecherry tree, but they didn’t touch the chokecherry tree.*
Anyway, I don’t trust everything I read on the internet because the chokecherry tree (berries, pits, leaves, bark and all -gasp!)) were one of the most useful wild edibles utilized by the Native Americans in the Northeastern parts of the U.S. (also read on the internet, fyi… I’m so confused).
The bark would be used as an astringent tea for colds and respiratory ailments (astringent- aka- mucous drying). They would also use the bark as the main ingredient in a sort of cough medicine. Ever wonder why the first flavor of lab-made cough syrup was cherry? Yup. Because everyone back then knew that the cherry tree was where it was at to relieve that pesky cough.
The Native Americans would also grind up the seeds and berries together, mix them with meat and lard, and dry all of this to make pemmican, a sort of jerky that was a staple in their diet. In addition, they would dry the berries alone and then grind them up (pits and all) to make a flour. The berries they used to treat stomach-ache, liver trouble, sore eyes and the pains and bleeding of childbirth. Dysentery, painful menstruation and bleeding during pregnancy were treated with the inner bark or roots.
The purple fruit is purportedly higher in antioxidants than even the cranberry, and its juice can be drunk raw, or made into a fine jelly, liquor, or syrup. It’s also been used as a beautiful, natural dye.
I’ve really enjoyed learning about this powerhouse fruit so abundant on our property (since learning about the first tree I’ve found four or five more hiding along our outer trail!) So yeah, cyanide poisoning aside and all, I’m pretty psyched to have figured out what all these little berries are and what on earth to do with them. In this first chokecherry post, I’ll instruct you on how to make the juice you’ll need for the jelly or syrup (sorry, I didn’t experiment with liquor this time around)
First, you must extract the juice:
To 9 cups of berries, add 4 cups of water.
Simmer for 15 minutes
Mash all together right in the pot (I used a potato masher). Mash all your frustrations out, or at least until you’re sure you’ve squished as much health giving juice from those berries as you can.
Rest a colander on the top of a pot or bowl. Line with cheesecloth (or an old *clean pillowcase or t-shirt)
Pour the mixture carefully (it will be hot, and it does stain) into the cheesecloth inside the colander.
This is where you have to be patient (sorry, all you gotta-have-it-now-ers). Cover and let strain for 2-12 hours (I let mine sit overnight) and give the cheesecloth a good squeeze at the end to get every last bit.
You should end up with 3-4 cups of lovely magenta chokecherry juice
Pretty easy! In my next post I’ll teach you how to make jelly from your chokecherry juice and also how to make a delicious sugar-free, pectin-free jelly! Excited? I thought so.
Now off for a little of that jelly before bed…