Last week, I noticed a couple huge cherry trees on the edge of a park that on my route to work. The fruit hung down in racemes like chokecherries, and the ripe ones were very black. I had never seen a chokecherry tree that big (25 feet or so), plus the tree had rough and shaggy bark (chokecherry usually has smooth silvery bark), so there was a little room for doubt. I picked one and squished it and, indeed, there was a big pit in the middle. Then I tasted it, and it tasted right — like a cherry, but a bit better and astringent. But I decided not to eat anymore until I could confirm the identity. I pulled a leaf off and got to a computer, where the beloved internet revealed to me that the tree fit the description of black cherry.
So Dekalb and I went back to pick some yesterday. People would walk by and ask what we were picking, and we told them, and they asked if they tasted good, and I would answer, “Well, some people like them.” From my chokecherry experience, I added, “The are a bit bitter and astringent, but that goes away when you cook them.” One woman who tasted them was convinced, because of the bitterness and astringency, that we had misidentified them and that they were indeed chokecherries, but I stand by my research.
I steam-juiced them last night and discovered I had been lying about the bitterness going away with cooking. The beautiful, deep purple gallon of juice I got was so bitter I wondered if any amount of sugar would rescue it for normal human consumption. It was a bit like cherry juice with 40 bags of oversteeped black tea in it. But then I threw in 2 loosely packed cups of brown sugar and about half a cup of honey and that raised it to the level of grapefruit juice – and I love grapefruit. I’ll probably mix in some sweet yellow cherry juice that I canned last year so their flavors can balance each other out. The yellow cherry juice has a sweet and slightly musky flavor. I think they will be perfect together.
Dekalb and I left the low-hanging cherries in place so I can go back and pick more on my lunch breaks. What a good week this will be!