Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Chokecherry Dreams

When I took the photo used in the previous post of the cold front moving in Sunday night I actually went out to take this picture of the chokecherry tree which is in bloom.


When I saw it blooming the first spring we lived here I was so excited - I could pick the cherries in the fall and make my all-time favorite jelly. Fall came, the berries blackened. Alas, when I went to pick them the birds had gotten them all.


I do not remember why or how I first became aware of chokecherries as anything other than a volunteer tree my Mom taught me to identify when I was a child. I do remember her telling us not to eat the berries because they were poisonous.

It was probably in the 70's when I subscribed to publications like Mother Earth News and Organic Gardening and Farming that I learned about  gathering and using wild plants - like elderberries, wild blackberries and chokecherries.

I definitely remember the first time I gathered chokecherries for a batch of jelly. There was a big old tree along the road on the west side of Lake Binder. I couldn't reach the fruit-laden limbs from the ground so I parked my car under the tree and stood on the car roof - and dented the roof in! Ah well, the damage was done so I kept gathering berries. (Where are the photos of that little yellow Duster I loved so much?)

Without Mom's help that batch of jelly would never have gotten made - I'd never made jelly in my life and we didn't have a recipe for chokecherry jelly. So we followed the instructions for cherry jelly and improvised.


Truth is I was most likely drawn to the idea of using chokecherries because of the danger. First, they were a forbidden fruit of my youth, second, they contain cyanide. Digestion of chokecherry seeds, leaves, twigs and bark by enzymes in the stomach releases prussic acid (hydrocyanic). Unless we ground up the seeds and used them in the jelly, we would be okay.

The taste of chokecherry jelly is less sweet, more tart than most jellies. It is just right for me. I had dreams of making more jelly with Mom when we moved to the farm in '95. The last time I picked chokecherries, granddaughter Alyssa helped me. We didn't get enough to make a batch of jelly so we put them in Mom's freezer. They were still there when we cleaned out the freezer after she died.

Now, whenever I go to a farmers' market, I look at the jams and jellies, hoping for a jar of the elusive chokecherry. The closest I have come to it is a jar of blackberry jam with honey and thyme I bought at the Marianna Farmers' Market when we visited Christine and Dale in Florida a year ago. The woman selling it said it was a flavor you either loved or hated. I loved it because it had that same acerbic taste of chokecherry jelly.

I know I can order chokecherry jelly online. Perhaps someday I will do that. And even if the birds didn't eat all the berries off that tree and I got enough to make a batch of jelly, it wouldn't be the same...my chokecherry dreams include Mom.

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