Wild Chokecherry Recipes

With these chokecherry recipes you can make everything from wine to bread.


| July/August 1981



070 chokecherry recipes 1 berries on branch

Wild fruits like these forms the basis of many chokecherry recipes.


PHOTO: PATRICIA CRAVENER AND ROBERTA M. STARRY

The glistening red or black fruit of the wild chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) is a familiar sight—during August and September—next to streams, along roads, and in wooded areas all across the United States and Canada. The usually free-for-the-gathering edible, which can be found as far north as Alaska and as far south as the Mexican border, is commonly harvested to make jam or jelly. However, chokecherry recipes go far beyond that, offering many more exciting ways to utilize the products of this versatile wildling.

Native Knowledge

When I was a child, a great number of shrublike chokecherry trees grew along the creeks not far from my parents' Dakota homestead. We shared the crop with our native American friends, and it was one of those folks, named Mrs. Jondas, who suggested that we dry part of our bountiful harvest for wintertime fixings.

Her dehydration method consisted of placing the fruit, in full sun, on cloth-covered trays, then storing the preserved cherries in paper bags hung from the kitchen rafters. When winter appetites needed a lift, she'd pound a handful of the hard, dry fruits into flour, which she then used to season puddings and meat dishes. (Chokecherry flour was often an ingredient in pemmican, the Indian staple food.)

After trying out Mrs. Jondas's ideas, we soon developed some appealing recipes of our own. In fact, the chokecherry became so important a part of our food, beverage, and medical provisions that when we moved to the Mohave desert—where the tree doesn't grow wild—it was imperative that we try cultivating some of our own.

We were able to order seedlings from Gurney Seed & Nursery.  Four 6- to 12-inch transplants sold for $4.89 total (2- to 3-foot saplings were $4.79 each). Somewhat to our surprise, the experiment was a success! Planted where they received the protection of a windbreak and filtered shade in the afternoon, our three small trees not only survived in the unfriendly desert atmosphere, but actually grew into a thicket, just as they would have done in their natural habitat.

A Pretty Addition

Besides providing luscious fruit, the chokecherry has beautiful dark green, glossy foliage that would enhance any garden corner or city patio. (Although they're most often low and bushlike, the trees can grow to be over 20 feet tall and develop trunks 8 inches in diameter.) In May, the limbs become covered with long racemes of white blossoms whose light, unique aroma fills the air. Round green cherries eventually replace the flowers, and—when they reach pea-size—the fruits turn a deep purplish red or black ... a signal for every bird in the country to come have a feast. At that point, we simply slide a bag made of old sheer curtains over some of the limbs to protect our share of fruit.

barrbelle
7/13/2014 6:07:10 PM

RE the drying of fruit and making of flour: am I correct that you dry the fruit whole (with seed intact) and the sun drying is enough to keep it from making cyanide compounds once ingested after ground (seed and all) cherries are used? What I mean is - do you grind cherry meat and seed both to make the flour? Thanks for answering!






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