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.