Self-Reliance

Chokecherry Syrup

Chokecherry syrup is a simple way to preserve chokecherries with minimal effort.  No need to pit the fruit, just extract the juice, add sugar, and enjoy.  This simple wild fruit syrup will keep in the refrigerator a few weeks, but canning is recommended for long term storage.

Wild chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) have spectacular flavor, and when picked dead ripe they’re just barely sweet enough to eat fresh.  It’s tricky though because the bears and raccoons often pick the shrubs clean well before they reach the “sweet” stage.

A simple homemade chokecherry syrup is a great way to enjoy their flavor, supplemented with a little sweetness to balance out the flavor.

As with any wild food, make sure you’re completely sure about your chokecherry identification before you begin making chokecherry syrup. 

Closeup of chokecherry fruit, leaf and seed for identification

Closeup of chokecherry fruit, leaf, and seed for identification

Their closest look-alike is wild black cherry, which is also edible, but I’ve seen people misidentify all manner of wild berry for implausible toxic fruit.  Accidentally harvesting Virginia creeper or wild buckthorn, which have small round dark-colored berries…but plants and growth habits that look nothing like chokecherry. 

Make sure you know what you’ve harvested…

How to Make Chokecherry Syrup

The first step to making chokecherry syrup is extracting the juice.  Each berry has a large cherry-like pit inside, surrounded by a small film of edible flesh.  Historically, the fruits were dried in the sun, which helped denature the cyanide in the pits, and then they added a nut-like crunch as they were eaten whole.

These days, most people prefer to avoid cyanide, even in small doses, and opt to juice chokecherries to remove the potentially problematic pits from the equation altogether.

There are two simple methods for juicing chokecherries ~ cook and strain, or steam juicer.

chokecherry juice extracted in a steam juicer

For the cook and strain method, place all the fruit in a saucepan with a bit of water.  Simmer it for a few minutes until the fruits have released their juices.  Pour the whole mixture through a strainer lined with fine mesh cheesecloth and collect the filtered chokecherry juice.

Alternatively, juice the fruit with a steam juicer.  This is my preferred method because it’s cleaner and extracts the most juice possible.  I keep a steam juicer on hand for making cherry wine and blackcurrant jelly earlier in the season, and then I pull it out again for chokecherry syrup.

Using a steam juicer in my outdoor canning kitchen

Using a steam juicer in my outdoor canning kitchen

Regardless of the method you choose, measure the resulting juice.  Chokecherries can vary widely in their juice yield, and I often get a bit over a cup of juice from a pound of fruit.  I’ve seen others reporting an average of 2 cups per pound.  Maybe they’re juicier in other parts of the country? 

It doesn’t much matter, you have the fruit you’ve found, and every chokecherry shrub is a bit different.  Measure your juice and add 1/2 cup to 1 cup of sugar for every cup of juice.

Personally, I like less sugar, so I can taste the fruit more.  A standard “simple syrup” uses a 1:1 ratio, and that’s what you’ll likely won’t if you’re using this chokecherry syrup to make fancy cocktails.  The total amount of sugar to juice is really up to you and your tastes.

Of course the sweeter (and riper) the fruit, the less sugar you should need.

Chokecherry Harvest

Mix the sugar and strained chokecherry juice, bringing the mixture to a boil for just a minute or two to dissolve the sugar.  Once the sugar is dissolved and the mixture has boiled, remove from heat. 

Chokecherries actually have a good bit of pectin, and your syrup will thicken into chokecherry jelly before you know it.  Once it’s cooled, give it a taste.

If you’d like a thicker syrup, continue cooking it to get it to “gel” a slight bit with the natural pectin.  You can also add more sugar (which will thicken it) and as well as sweetening your syrup if it’s not to your tastes.

Once it’s how you like it, pour it into jars and it’s ready to use (or can for longer preservation).

Canning Chokecherry Syrup

Simple syrups can (and will) spoil if left at room temperature for more than a few days.  In the fridge, it’ll last a few weeks.  Canning is the best way to ensure your chokecherry syrup lasts, and your work doesn’t go to waste. 

Chokecherries are naturally acidic enough for canning, and you could just water bath can chokecherry juice without any added sugar if you choose.

Adding sugar makes it easier to use later on, and I love pulling a ready to use jar of chokecherry syrup off the shelf for a batch of mid-winter wild pancakes.

If canning chokecherry syrup for long term preservation, choose quarter pint, half-pint or pint mason jars.  Fill the jars with prepared syrup, leaving 1/4 inch headspace.

Seal with 2 part canning lids and process the jars in a water bath canner.  The times are 5 minutes for quarter and half-pint jars, and 10 minutes for pint jars.

Remove the jars from the canner and allow them to cool to room temperature on a towel on the counter.  After 24 hours, check seals and store any unsealed jars in the refrigerator for immediate use.  Sealed jars should maintain quality in the pantry for 12-18 months.

Chokecherry Recipes

Looking for more ways to use chokecherries?  Try any of these delicious chokecherry recipes…

Chokecherry Recipes

  • Chokecherry Jelly (and Jam)
  • Chokecherry Wine ~ Coming Soon
  • Drying Chokecherries (3 ways) ~ Coming Soon
  • Traditional Pemmican with Chokecherries ~ Coming Soon

Have other ideas?  Let me know what else I should try with these wild-harvested chokecherries in the comments below.

Chokecherry Syrup ~ Learn how to make a tasty syrup from wild foraged chokecherries.

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