Chokecherries, Onions, and a Crockful of Community

Yesterday morning, while I was speedily harvesting a few last minute additions to my SD Blogophere picnic dish (plus the cukes, which always need picking), our neighbor Kathy stopped by and asked if I thought Harry would mind if she picked the chokecherries along the road.

Now Kathy furnishes me with all the horse manure I could want, and also does some helpful maintenance mowing along the roadsides for us, so I certainly wasn’t going to say no to her request. But it did get me wondering because for as long as I’ve lived here, I’d never harvested or processed chokecherries.

So when I finished down in the gardens, I stopped by where Kathy was picking and asked her for a recipe idea. She told me she juices and freezes them for making jelly in the winter, and suggested that I might want to pick too–she was only taking the low-hanging fruit. Since she’d mowed around the bush, I drove my truck in close beside it today, and stood in the bed on top of one of my coolers, and picked a couple gallons worth.

Chokecherries

Chokecherries

I also looked at a few recipes on the internet, and one thing I’ve noticed about chokecherry recipes is that they call for a lot of sugar. So, I picked up a 10lb bag at the store for that and other canning and preserving purposes. I did freeze 4 3-cup bags of the whole cherries mixed with a cup of sugar apiece, and then I juiced the rest by cooking them with a little water until they popped.

Juicing the chokecherries

Juicing the chokecherries

I tried to strain the juice in my food mill, but the seeds are too big, so I had to use a strainer and the back of a spoon. I’ve gotten three quarts so far, and I’m guessing I’ll get at least one more.

But the weird thing is that I tasted the juice, and it’s really good! I haven’t added any sugar at all, and it is fairly sweet, and has a deep, slight dusky cherry flavor. There’s a little edge of tartness, but nothing like I would have expected after reading all the other recipes. I plan on just drinking the juice instead of making jelly–I’m not that much of a sweet jelly fan.

I should note that you can’t eat the seeds of chokecherries–they have a form of cyanide in them like many other prunus species, and can make you sick if ingested in large quantities. But you can freeze them whole and juice them later.

Another project for today was pulling all the yellow onions out of their bed. You know it’s time when their tops have fallen over, and these did about a week or two ago. I loaded them up in a bucket and replanted the bed right away with rutabaga seed.

Tonight while the chokecherries were cooking, I went out and started cleaning the dirt and loose skins off the bucketful of golden bulbs. It took me back to when I worked at Vermont Valley Farm in Wisconsin. I remember spending much of an afternoon sitting on crates in the greenhouse with this guy named Andy, the floor littered with onion skins, and racks and racks of onions in all colors filling an entire wall of the building.

But I had a different helper for my much smaller pile–my favorite little neighbor girl, Gurdy, stopped by to see what I was up to. She’s about three, and she has been a regular visitor ever since she could walk. She grabbed an onion and started meticulously peeling the skin off and chatting. Then her dad called her, so I let her take the onion home.

I don’t know if she likes them, but I’ll bet she’ll eat this special one she cleaned herself.

Yellow Onions

Yellow Onions

Last on today’s project list was to start the pickle crock. I had been putting the word out and checking the Civic Council in hopes of finding a crock, and then Susan and Kathy, who come down to the farmers market pretty regularly, commented to me on how they’d just finished a jar of my pickles from last year and how much they’d liked them. I told them I was hoping to do the real, old fashioned kind of pickles this year, and it turned out Kathy had a couple of her grandmother’s old crocks.

We made an arrangement whereby I get to use the crocks for a few months in exchange for a few jars of the pickles that come out of them. Now that’s what I call a “crockful of community”!

Pickle Crock

Pickle Crock

I put the first few cukes in it today, along with the vinegar, spices, dill, and salt. It looks like the jar is floating there because it’s on a see-through plate that, with the weight of the jar full of water, helps keep the cukes below the brine-line. Usually, the crock is covered with a couple layers of cheesecloth to keep dust and bugs out–I took it off for the photo-op.

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9 responses

  1. Jackie,we make a chokecherry wine and it’s different every year.Sometimes a copper colored sometimes a bright red.Just like grapes,chokecherries and other fruits have”vintages”.Don.

  2. Don–

    I’m Rebecca, but thanks for the comment!

    My juice had a color that is a deep magenta like the color of beets. The taste is fabulous.

    I thought about making wine, but I’ll leave that to you professionals for now!

  3. Heyyyyyyy Rebecca –

    This is fun news… did you know that chokecherries are used in a number of native ceremonies (especially in Sundance, which is coming up next week)? Is there any more to harvest, and would you be willing to share with yet another “neighbor”?

  4. Between Kathy picking the lower branches and me picking the upper ones, there’s not much left on that particular tree.

    But if I see another spot that looks productive, I’ll let you know!

    –re.

  5. I live in Wyoming and chokecherries are all over! I have 5 gallons of wine fermenting in my kitchen right now. One new recipe I tried this year was for Chokecherry Vinegar. It sounds terrible, and smells pretty bad in the beginning, but when it’s done it tastes pretty yummy:
    3 cups chokecherries
    1 cup vinegar
    1 cup water
    sugar
    mash berries in a glass/pyrex bowl and pour vinegar and water over the mash, liquid should cover the berry mash. Leave this overnight (looks pretty bad at this point). After 24 hours boil mixture for 5 minutes and then strain liquid off of pulp. For each cup of liquid add one cup of sugar and boil for 2 more minutes. Let settle and cool and you will have a lovely syrup for making a refreshing drink. I mix a few tablespoons (I like a little stronger flavor) over ice in a glass of club soda. It’s yummy and makes great gifts.

  6. CUrious where you are – just finished up a batch of chokecherries, but ours are always “sharp” – not a flavor that I would describe as tart, really, and they’re not at all sweet. Lucky you! but they are very very good with almond, so I continue to work with them every year 🙂

    • Southeastern South Dakota. We had a good couple of years for chokecherries, but last winter, amidst all the snow, a plow/road grader did some major damage to our main chokecherry thicket, and it didn’t bear at all this year. 😦

      Thankfully, I still have some frozen ones left over from last year.

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