Friday, October 21, 2011

behold the chokecherry

Before I moved to Minnesota, I had only a vague notion of what a chokecherry was and never had I tried one.  My husband, who grew up here, talked of having chokecherry jelly and recounted popping the astringent cherries in his mouth as a kid and trying not to pucker.

We had been here almost two years before I discovered that our woods held a number of these trees and another year still before I tried my hand at making anything with the cherries.  My first batch of jelly wasn't much more than sweet, not what I expected from these notorious little fruits.

This year I was able to pick a good amount of cherries before the birds or bugs got to them, and made a chokecherry syrup.  To counteract the astrigency of the cherry, it's important to wait until they're black without a trace of red, and to add lots and lots of sugar.  Now, I did both but my syrup still had a rather medicinal taste.  Not unlike Nyquil, actually.

I tried making a bubbly drink by adding some club soda and got something akin to um, bubbly Nyquil.  I figure my only recourse at this point is to make an alcholic drink of it.  Enough vodka in there and I probably won't notice the taste at all.  Or anything else for that matter...

I was a little more successful with my other chokecherry experiment.

I look pretty dangerous here, don't I?  You may think I'm all sweet mushrooms and soft wool but I have a darker side.  And a knife.  And mom gym shoes.

Yeah, I'm scary.

One of our chokecherry trees had fallen this summer and I finally got around to hauling the wood into the barn for drying.  I cut off some of the smaller limbs and thought I'd try dyeing with the bark.

I used one of my old kitchen knives to strip the bark (a draw knife is on my list of wants, but what I have are old kitchen knives) from the limbs.  I tore the strips of bark into pieces and simmered it in some water for about an hour.  The water had taken on an orangey color and the house smelled like earth and cherries, which I didn't mind.

I drained the dye and added a piece of unmordanted, scoured silk and wool.  The resulting color is a warm tan, sort of like buckskin on the silk and a pale tan on the wool.

It's tan, which isn't hard to come by with natural dyeing, but it is quite lovely, a nice shade for autumn.

How about you?  Have you tried chokecherries?  Did you pucker?

Have a great weekend, everyone.


Kitten's Lost Her Mittens said...

I live in Minnesota, but I've never had chokecherries! But I love things that make me pucker, so I'll have to try them. :)
x Katherine

kristin said...

hi Lisa! everything i love about you in one post :)'re experimenting, dyeing, and just basically "going for it" (and there's also showing us the darker "knife wielding" side)

did you know that chokecherries are making a sort of "comeback" in the US? I've posted about making elderberry syrup this fall, and chokecherries are said to have even more powerful antioxidants than my beloved elderberries. But I've yet to try making an elixir for them. Try a google search of "aronia berries" (as they are now being called)and maybe you'll find a recipe for those chokecherries that does not required alcohol to get rid of the Nyquil taste.

My friend, the WI farmer, has actually added aronia berries to his growing list and i can see of future of an abundance of these.

thanks for yet another inspiring post...who, but you would strip the bark and make a dye bath?

happy friday. xx

Chiska said...

My husband is loves chokecherry syrup and jelly. I don't like it very much, but adding the syrup as a sweetener to lemonade makes a pretty pink and good tasting lemonade. That I like a lot. I've never figured out the proportions exactly, but it's a big hit with everyone.

Glo said...

In winemaking we counteract astringency by fining with egg whites (or other proteins). Maybe worth trying?

Anita Chadwick said...

You've inspired me. While on a recent camping trip I took home some chokeberries and ended up using them to dye some cotton bags I found at a thrift store. I'm not really sure what I'm doing yet, so I added a little alum to the water and let them sit for a couple of days in a vase with the dye. They turned out a gorgeous shade of deep purple. I'm planning on using them in a mix media piece for the living room and for gift bags this Christmas. In other news, this plant is a bit controversial as it is invasive, but the porcelainberry vine grows near my work and on a recent walk I picked two handfuls of berries. To my dismay, I discovered that the berries are filled with a white/yellow flesh so I'm drying them out. They are a gorgeous turquoise blue color. I plan to drill holes in them and use them in my jewelry. I'll post pictures. Thanks again for the inspiration..always!

Lisa at lil fish studios said...

Katherine - When you try some, let me know what you think!

Kristin - I'm so glad you brought this up. When I was trying to ID these shrubs and trees, I saw info on the chokeberry (Aronia) too. They are a completely different animal, even though they look and taste similarly. What I have here is a mix of chokecherry shrubs and a few black cherry trees. The fruit from both have a single pit, like a cherry. The chokeberry has multiple seeds inside. (amongst other identifying features) I hadn't looked at the nutritional value of the berries so that's interesting to hear about the antioxidants. I do know that all parts of the chokecherry and black cherry, the leaves, bark, pit, everything except the fruit are poisonous. Interesting, isn't it?

Chiska - I tried it in lemonade too but sadly got...yep...nyquil lemonade. I bet it does add a nice flavor when done right though.

Glo - you are so interesting! I'll have to read about that. Goodness knows I have enough egg whites around here.

Anita - yay! I'm so glad I've been able to inspire you! I love the idea of using the dried porcelainberries and the chokecherries for dye. Let me know how the color holds up on the dye, as most of the berry dyes I've done have been fugitive.

Wanda Setzer said...

What fun you have! I haven't been following you long, but I am entirely envious.

Barbara said...

What an interesting post! I grew up with chokecherry trees but was always told not to eat the berries. I had heard of old timers from the neighborhood using it to make wine but that was all! I wonder if the cherries themselves would create a red color dye? I would love to experiment as you do! For now I can come and read your posts.


Tara said...

I love reading about your experiments, Lisa. One question: do you strip bark under the influence of the chokecherry and vodka?

Heather A said...

I live in Saskatchewan and grew up on a farm here. The area surrounding our farm was rich with chokecherry bushes and my Dad even transplanted several into our yard. Every year we would (and still do) pick buckets of them and make syrup and jelly. It's one of my favourite things and is also good with savoury items added to make a meat sauce.

Of course, lots of sugar is required because there's good reason they're called CHOKEcherries ... as you know. My Mom, though, claims to like eating them right off the tree. And she does ... just to make a point, I think. Me? Not so much. But they do make my favourite jelly and syrup (also nice in cheesecakes and on ice cream as well as pancakes and waffles).


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