The chokecherry tree is not a very prepossessing tree. It looks, to my midwestern eyes, more like a bush than like a tree, with a multitude of hard little green berries in the late spring. As the summer waxes, those hard little green balls slowly turn red, then almost black, as they ripen. The berries are no bigger than your pinky nail, mostly seed and leathery skin, with the tiniest hint of sweetness buried in a pulp so astringent that it makes the inside of your mouth feel dry when you eat them off the tree. Yet these little berries are beloved and coveted in this area for making that essential northern New Mexico breakfast condiment, chokecherry jelly.
I had never heard of such a thing as chokecherries before I met my husband and had never eaten a raw one before moving here. The only things from my midwestern background that I can compare them to are currants. My grandmother had a marvelous currant bush in her garden, and from its berries she made sparkling red, jewel-like jelly. But currants are delicious (to me) straight off the bush, or maybe in a little dish with a splash of milk and sugar. I cannot ever imagine eating chokecherries this way. My husband, however, eats them with enthusiasm straight from his “snack tree” every morning and evening when he goes to feed the sows down by the river. “A chacun son goût,” as they say.
But as a fan of canning and jelly making generally, I wasn’t about to turn down the opportunity to try my hand at a little chokecherry juice- and jelly-making myself. We picked a mess of berries on two separate occasions and I set to making juice. I was immediately surprised at how little juice these berries seemed to render - a dark, cloudy juice that was mostly skin and seed, difficult to strain. I ended up with about two and a half gallons of juice in the end and made two batches of jelly with it; the rest I pre-measured and put in the freezer for future jelly-making. This left me with a scant pint of juice in the fridge - not enough for any use that I knew of.
A quick internet query to find out what other people do with chokecherries led me to discover that, well, people make juice out of chokecherries. And they make jelly. They also make syrup. Probably pretty good on pancakes and all very nice as far as that goes, but not really what I was looking for. But then it dawned on me: chokecherry juice is just a super-puckery juice that’s good with sugar. That description sounds a lot like lemon, and I also remembered that I have a great lemon sherbet recipe from Agustin’s grandmother. It's a simple recipe, with only three ingredients - lemon, sugar, and milk. And thanks to Rose, my goat, we’re about drowning in milk over here, so I conveniently had everything I needed to make the experiment. And, although I don’t believe you need an excuse for concocting frozen treats in August, it was a nice coincidence that Agustin and I were celebrating our 10th anniversary - I always like making some kind of treat for an Occasion.
And really, how better to celebrate than with a beautifully pink sherbet? It came out really good - a lovely color and pleasant berry sweet-tartness. I’ve been thinking now how one might substitute chokecherry juice in other originally-lemon-flavored confections. Chokecherry curd, chokecherry pudding, chokecherry lemon drops... I’m also eager to experiment with it in more savory applications, like in a sauce for smoked pork shoulder or chops. But right now my sights are set on a chokecherry meringue pie. Bright pink tanginess with pillows of white on top. Oh, I can see it now. Fortunately the chickens are laying up a storm - I’ll let you know how it comes out.