There is a tree overhanging the parking area of our driveway at an awkward, ugly angle, and it really looks like it should be cut down.
Every once in a random year it blesses us with enough fruit to make a most scrumptious jam.
For years I have called it chokecherry jam because my husband said they were chokecherries because his grandfather said they were chokecherries. And who is going to dispute Maynard on the provenance of the trees on his own property?
The fruit looks like a chokecherry. It grows in a cluster like a chokecherry. It tastes very tart like a chokecherry (hence the name chokecherry). And it works perfectly in chokecherry jam recipes.
But chokecherries grow as a bush, low to the ground where raccoons and bears feast upon them. The fruit-bearing thing in my driveway is most definitely a tree.
A wild black cherry tree. Prunus serotina, if you really want to know. Honey bees love the flowers in spring. We love the fruit in summer.
Saturday, my husband decided it was time to pick them. It wasn’t on my agenda at all. I was just emerging from my annual Sloth Week and had housework to do. Suddenly, vacuuming gave way to counting jam jars and lids. Then, of course, the trip to the store for fresh jam jars and lids. And pectin. And sugar. (And ice cream. Because ice cream.)
We weighed what Forager Man had already gathered. It did not seem to be enough. So we both went out to resume picking.
I kind of wish the tree were a chokecherry. A chokecherry bush would be low and easier to pick. John had already picked the low-hanging black cherries. The rest of the cherries were up out of reach. If only we had a cherrypicker.
But we don’t.
For lack of a cherrypicker, we picked what we could by standing in the bed of the pickup truck. But even more fruit hung tantalizingly just out of reach. So, we put the kitchen step ladder in the back of the pickup truck, and took turns climbing up the step ladder, pulling the already arching branches down as far as we could, hoping that the branch would not suddenly fling back and send us flying.
The branches did not fling, but one did snap. Then it was really easy to pick. I just sat in the truck bed, with the branch across my lap, plunking cherries into my bucket while trying not to sit on any escapees rolling around the truck.
We collected over four pounds of cherries. Two half gallon containers. That equals about a bazillion cherries. They are smaller than blueberries, about the size of baby peas, with most of the size being the pit. Filling a container cherry by cherry reminded me of trying to pick two cups of violet blossoms last spring. It just seemed like the container would never be full!
After simmering the cherries and passing them through the food mill, the four pounds yielded about six cups of pulpy cherry juice, enough to make two batches of jam.
I don’t expect the grandkids to be big fans of this jam, although I think it makes a wonderful PBJ. And it is pretty darn yummy just licked off a spoon. But, it is a grown-up sweet-tart. It wants to grace a Brie or glaze a pork tenderloin. Hmm, that sounds like a menu idea for the weekend.
I used the chokecherry jam recipe from Miles Away Farm. She added almond extract to the jam, which is always a good way to win me over! She used 1 tsp of almond extract, which was a smidge overwhelming. I cut it back to 1/2 tsp to not overpower the cherry. Here are my notes for the jam, so I can remember the next random year we are blessed with wild black cherries:
- Pick enough cherries to fill a half-gallon container.
- Rinse cherries.
- Add cherries and 1 cup water to large pot. Bring to a simmer and let simmer for 15 minutes, mashing the cherries with a potato masher.
- Process the simmered cherries through a food mill. It should yield about 3 cups.
- Add cherries, 1 packet of Sure-Jell, 1 tsp of butter to pot. Bring to a boil.
- Add 4 1/2 cups of sugar and stir until it boils for 2 minutes.
- Remove from heat. Stir in 1/2 tsp almond extract.
- Pour into jam jars and process in water bath for 10 minutes. (The jam thickened very quickly, so do not use the inverted jar method to seal lids or you will end up with large air bubbles.)
- Yield: 5+ half-pint jars.