I spotted a few chockecherry (prunus virginiana) trees in the spring near our house with their early white blossoms and determined then that this year I would watch for the berries to appear later in the year. This is the now the height of the season, but you have to be fast as the birds are fond of them, and have a distinct advantage over us in harvesting them.
The berries start out red, but should not be picked until they have turned very dark – almost black and starting to shrivel. The flavour is that of a cherry, but somewhat more astringent, and this astringency decreases with age, and again with cooking. They are much smaller than regular cherries, and have a higher proportion of seed to fruit, but they are so easy to pick so you can still get lots of pulp from them.
To identify them, look for oval leaves with serrated edges. The leaf is dark with a lighter underside. The berries hang in cluster off reddish stems. They are popular not only with birds but also caterpillars. If you have these trees on your property, you should check for tent caterpillars and remove them.
The fruit is high in antioxidants and has many uses. Jams, jellies, syrups and wine are the most common, but they can also be dried, seeds and all, and ground into a flour. This is one of the ingredients of pemican, but I’m sure in modern-day cooking we can find other uses.
As I was only able to collect a small amount of berries and have never used them before, I decided to make a simple jelly. I had two cups of berries.
I covered them with water in a pan and simmered them until soft. Then I strained them through a food mill. I returned the pulp to the pan, added more water to cover and repeated cooking and straining process.
I ended up with 2 cups of juice, to which I added 2 cups of sugar. After bringing it to a full rolling boil, I added one 57 gram package of Certo pectin and allowed to boil 2 more minutes, then poured into 6 sterilized 100 ml. jars with a little to spare.
Serving it on fresh scones with clotted or whipped cream or plain yogurt is just one of the ways this rich jelly can be enjoyed.