In late September, two of the kids and I picked chokecherries at the neighbors. Bears had been coming down off the mountain to help themselves to the succulent treats and two had been sighted having a fight up the road from there. The kids were pretty nervous but I figured in the middle of the day we were going to be okay and besides the loud rattle of the diesel truck as we pulled up should send them running to the hills.
We had never been all the way to the neighbor's house before and therefore did not know what the chokecherry trees looked like. Unfortunately, they were not bushes but gangly trees. We needed a ladder to really get to the bulk of the berries but it was back at the house and so we picked from the lower branches.We figured we'd come back later better prepared but life interfered and it never happened.
Finally giving up on ever getting back to picking, I juiced what we had and then froze the juice in jars. A little hint I learned from my mother. If one wants and you have freezer room, you can freeze the berries and then juice them later. She froze all her berries and when the cold weather set in she would make jelly and jams. My parents have always had chokecherry trees in their yards. Chokecherries has been a staple for us. Whether the berries came from their trees or from wild ones that grow in the general area where we live now, which is near where Kirk's parents were.
I waited only a few weeks later to thaw the juice. I was craving buttermilk pancakes with something besides maple syrup. The grandkids and I are not crazy about chokecherry jelly and I like chokecherry syrup only marginally better but I have been feeling a bit nostalgic.
I thought I'd do the frozen cherry juice also since I was at it. I had about a half a gallon of each kind. Here comes the inspiration or is it a brain fart as I laughingly call it because I'm never sure how these things will turn out. I put the two together for one big batch and WOW! The cherry juice masked the chokecherries slight tongue drying after taste and left only a hint of it. There was this sweet / slightly tart flavor that had our seven-year-old's eyes popping wide open in delight when she dipped her spoon in for a taste. The complexity of flavors combing the two quite different cherries put it on the repeat and repeat list. That is if I can get my cherry tree or bushes and the chokecherry trees to both put on a good harvest in the same year. I know I can do that if I grow my own chokecherry trees so that is on my to do list for sure.
Part of the success I'm sure was the type of pectin I use. The pink box by Sure Jell that is labeled low sugar and allows the flavor of the fruit or berries come to the forefront. Beware if you are not a jelly maker that even with this low sugar pectin, there is loads of sugar involved. For berry syrup I simply make jelly and then scoop some out of the jar and put it into a sauce pan to heat. I add a small amount of water to reach the consistency I like and voila, syrup. That way if I make jelly I can use it as jelly or syrup.
Now to get the kids to use the cherry/choke cherry jelly as syrup. I tried one morning and it was met with, "Where's the maple syrup?" They are hung up on this fake maple syrup I make that is just 2 cups of sugar, and one cup of water boiled until clear and the sugar dissolved. Then I add Mapleine flavoring. It tastes almost exactly like the real maple syrup. For me, even better since I can up the maple taste with a little heavy handed measuring. There is no substitute for Mapleine. It is hands down the best and you will find it has a devoted following. This is the syrup my momma made when I was a kid.
I'm sure when the kids get use to berry syrup, they will love it too. It happened with the King Harry potatoes. They were French fry fans but not potato fans. King Harry potatoes changed their minds along with some good cooking. Those potatoes are our oldest daughter's favorite and my mother-in-law too. They don't want any other potato. When we were harvesting them the kids just kept saying, "We are going to weed our garden better next year!" Yes, it was pretty bad and yes, the kids love, love, love the produce. They had better love it enough to really do some serious weeding because Kirk and I have plans to make the garden bigger than ever before with more fruit trees too.
Wouldn't it be great if the chokecherry trees and the cherry tree both put on heavy again next year? YUM! YUM!