If you live in Calgary or the northern prairies, you’ve probably seen a chokecherry before. You may not realize it, they are all over the city here and so few people avail themselves of the berries or are aware that they are even edible! The purple leaves and large amount of small black berries make these an ornamental tree that finds its presence all over Calgary.
Next time you see a tree like this, try one of the berries for yourself! They are all over downtown and quite common in most areas- as they are a natural tree to our area of Canada. We had a few in our complex that we were able to harvest for a couple cups of berries, so I decided to make some chokecherry jam! It did take a lot of work to get them all picked and stemmed, but I had a friend for that. Afterwards, they were washed, and frozen. Freezing the berries actually helps cut down the astringency of chokecherries, and makes it easier to release all the juice when you cook them down for jam.
Here’s how I did it!
First, the frozen berries were put into a pot with a cup of water. Do not worry about taking the pits out – they can be removed at the end of the process. The pits do contain some toxins, but if you do not crush the pits themselves, you will be fine. I had around 4 cups of berries, and one cup of water. This was allowed to sit on the heat and boil away! There really is no point in timing this part of the process- it truly does take some time for the berries to all soften down and release juice. I boiled it away until the liquid in the pot was quite flavorful and the berries seemed to soften- then strained it out, added more water, and kept the berries on the heat.
Once the berries looked lighter and started to open like in this photo, I knew it was time to do the first straining. Then they cook away until they fall apart and are easy to mush- a few poundings with a potato masher helps to release the last of the juice from inside of the berries.
After the berries were basically mush and had released plenty of juice (as visible in the above picture) I was ready to finish the straining. For the previous part I had just poured the liquid out through a sieve. For this, I poured the liquid and berries into Jam bags, basically a pre-form mesh bag of cheese cloth that you can find in the canning aisle. I let this sit until everything drained, and then twisted the bags to force out the last of the juice. It can take quite a while for all of the juice to come out of the berries, so don’t be alarmed if you have to hang the bag overnight to get the last of it out of there.
I didn’t manage to get a good picture of all the juice that I got out, so the above one will have to do. What you choose to do with the juice from here is up to you! If you have enough, why not try a chokecherry wine? You can also choose to go the route that I did and make a jam.
ChokeCherry Jam ingredients
1 part Chokecherry Juice
1 part Sugar
….yes, that’s it. Dissolve the sugar in the Chokecherry juice, put on the stove in metal pot and allow it to heat up. Bring it to a boil and allow it to cook down until most of the water is gone – Apparently the goal temperature for making this into jam is 7f over the boiling point of water, 219f (thank you http://highaltitudegardening.blogspot.ca/2006/08/chokecherry-jam-recipe.html for providing me with the correct temperature.)
I had tried placing a bit on a plate from the freezer to tell if it was ready the first time, and ended up having to crack open my cans and recook the jam to get it to set! Got this far on my own but am glad that I was able to find a resource to help me out when I got into a bind- chokecherry syrup is good but it was certainly not my goal. I used the frozen plate method again when I had it up to the correct temperature, and have realized I was very much not looking for the correct reaction the first time. It really should set fairly quickly for you on the frozen plate if it is prepared, if you aren’t sure if it is ready, well, then it isn’t!
I put my jars in a boiling pot of water w/ a lid on it to sanitize for 15 minutes, and then used a canning funnel to help fill up the jars when they were ready. They rested for a moment before I put on the lids, screwed down the caps, and put the jam back in the canner for another 15 minutes. This helps ensure it’ll be shelf stable, I was sick of only having freezer jams, and was frankly, out of room in my freezer.
After a night out on the counter to cool down, your jars are ready to label and shelve until needed. Hopefully you’ll be able to pick your own berries, because this is the taste of autumn in the prairies that no one should miss!
As for myself – I’m still kinda tired but getting more energy day by day. I have my doctors visit this week and really hope he will clear me to go back to work, as I’m going crazy sitting at home! I also really, really want to know my biopsy results ( then again, who wouldn’t at this point?)