Tuesday, August 30, 2011

South Dakota Chokecherry Jelly

Fourteen hundred miles was a long way to drive just so I could make choke-cherry jelly.  My childhood memories and a craving for this delicacy nagged at me until I reached my beloved Black Hills of Dakota.  Suckering shrubs or small trees grow wild in canyons, along rivers and across the landscape.  They produce black, berries that have a very astringent, sour taste. If enough sugar is added, they make wonderful jams and jellies.  Chokecherry juice is also used to craft wine in the western United States mainly in the Dakotas. 

In 2007, Governor John Hoeven signed a bill naming the chokecherry the official fruit of the state of North Dakota, in part because its remains have been found at more archeological sites in the Dakotas than anywhere else. 
Mike and I arrived in Rapid City, South Dakota on August 19, at his brother Richard's and sister-in-law, Jean’s home.  One of the first events we planned was to pick chokecherries which grow around their house in the hills.  We had to get right on it as the deer, birds, and squirrels were gorging themselves on these tart berries and there wouldn’t be any left on the branches.

A large amount of berries is required to make jam and jelly because the seed inside is large and the skin tough.  The process is more work than other berries because after picking, you must wash clean, and boil them hard to get juice. 
The recipe we used for our jelly is as follows:

 CHOKECHERRY JELLY (makes 12 ½ pint jars)
4 cups juice
1 box Sure Jell pectin
5 ½ cups sugar

Wash berries; put in water to cover by placing hand on top of berries.  Bring to boil; simmer until there is good color.  Berries will begin to burst.  This takes 20 minutes of boiling.  Strain through cheese cloth.  Mix Sure Jell with juice in large saucepan.  Bring to hard boil; stirring occasionally.  Add sugar and bring to boil again for one minute, stirring constantly.  Remove from heat.  Skim off foam.  Use scalded jelly jars.

Chokecherry jelly has a wonderful taste and is well worth the work.

NOTE: for many Native American tribes in the Northern Plains, chokecherries were the most important fruit in their diets.  The bark of chokecherry root was used to ward off colds, fever and stomach maladies.  Chokecherries are very high in antioxidant pigment compounds, such as anthocyanins.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hometown Fair

Nisland, South Dakota is where I grew up and lived until I was nineteen years old.  As a newly married couple, we moved to California, and over the past 47 years we have made the 1400 mile drive back to my hometown many times.  At heart, I am still a small-town girl and need to return to where my roots grew deep. 

This year, we arrived in time for the Butte-Lawrence County Fair. The small town of Nisland is the location of the fair. I walked through the two-story pavilion admiring the arts and crafts, and culinary exhibits.  The quilts and handicrafts captured my attention.  I remembered how the ladies in Nisland took pride in entering their work in the fair, and then anxiously waited to see what ribbon they received.

The activities of this year’s fair include:  Buckles & Bows Square Dancing performance, Youth Rodeo, Talent Show, Catch-a-Sheep Contest, 4 H activities, local farmers market, and of course, the judging of livestock.  There are grand champion steers, and sheep at the fair.  The grounds is scattered with vendors, and the implement dealers have their machinery for viewing. 

Unlike many fairs I have attended in California, this fair was different in that the parking and admission were free.  At 5 p.m. there was a free barbecue.  Before the meal, the Belle Fourche Cowboy Band performed.  While standing in the long line waiting to fill my plate with pork sandwich, beans and chips, I visited with many people I had not seen in years. 

One of the last events of the evening was the tractor-pulling contest.  More than half a century ago the competition was horse pulling.  Farmers would boast about the strength of their horses.  Today, machines are used to pull heavy weights.  The event has become high-tech.  Computers are used to calculate how far the tractor has pulled the weighted-down sled.

Another event we thoroughly enjoyed was the Catch-a-Sheep Contest.  Youths ages 8-12 can win a lamb.  All they have to do is harness a sheep and then coax, pull, drag (whatever it takes) to get the sheep to another pen. 

Before we left the fairgrounds, we sat under a cottonwood tree and watched the children enjoying themselves at the fair.  The small child in me remembered what the fair looked like over 50 years ago. Things were much the same except there was no carnival rides with flashing lights and music playing or noisy carnies.  I sat and thought how someday the youngsters here will look back on this day and think it was one of the finest days of their lives.  And maybe, just maybe, they will have the desire to return to this hometown fair and relish all their wonderful memories just like I did that day.     

Monday, August 8, 2011

Cukes! Cukes! Cukes!

These gallon jars of dill pickles are rather grandiose.  My cucumber patch reminds me of the story “Jack and the Beanstalk”.  Perhaps they are growing fast and furious because I put my patch where my composter used to be.  We are getting a little saturated with gummere salat, so I decided to make crock dills.  I did not have a kettle large enough to can and seal these jars, so I made pickles the way my mother used to.  She would pick the cukes fresh, wash them thoroughly, and then place them in a large crock in the cellar.  She added pickling salt and fresh dill (which she grew in her garden) and then filled the crock full of water.  A plate was placed on top of the cukes and she put a large stone on the plate to keep them down in the brine.  We could hardly wait for the brine to ferment the cucumbers (4-5 days) and turn them into delicious kosher dills.


20 cucumbers - 4”to 6” long
1 garlic clove
Fresh dill
Brine solution:   3 quarts of water to ½ cup salt.  Use pickling salt.  (Do not use salt with iodine in it).  Heat solution and pour over cucumbers.

If you would rather can pickles, try this recipe.  It is from the cookbook Kuche, Kochen published by the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia, Lincoln, Nebraska, 1973.  


Medium cucumbers
8 cups water
1 cup vinegar
Pickling spices—tied in cloth bag

Bring vinegar water and pickling spices to boil.  Wash cucumbers and fill jars with dill at the bottom and top of jars.  Add 1 clove garlic and 1 ½ tsp. salt and alum if desired.  Fill jars with vinegar and spice water and seal tight.  Put jars in large canning kettle and cover with water.  Boil until pickles change color, about 20 minutes.

Note:  Cleo Flegel passed away in 2009.  Cleo’s husband, Arthur, is one of the original founders of the American Historical Society of Germans from Russia.