Friday, July 17, 2015

When we first moved onto the farm and began to landscape, Clay planted (among many, many other things) a choke berry bush behind the mailbox. It fit in with our edible landscape "theme" and has proven to be an attractive little plant, as well.

I have to admit, quite a few of the edible trees and bushes that Clay researched and planted were completely foreign to me. Along with the traditional apples, pears, peaches, cherries, strawberries, plums, blueberries & blackberries, we also have jujubes, figs, currants, mulberries, pawpaws, medlars, gumis, maypops and, of course, choke berries.

Since most of our plants are still wee babes, our harvests from these exotic edibles, as of yet, has been limited. This year was the first time there has been a really bountiful harvest from the choke berry. And so, my research on how to make use of this fruit has begun!

Slowly, slowly I am trying to increase my knowledge of how to fully enjoy our "earth bounty" (watch one of my favorite silly videos to understand why I like that phrase so much). Last year I tried my hand at persimmon cookies. I actually planned & planted our vegetable garden this year (and have *mostly* kept on top of the weeding and harvesting, so far....). We learned how to make yummy yogurt from our family cow, and I experimented with mozzarella cheese, once. Slowly, slowly. And inconsistently. But with pleasure. 


 Most choke berry recipes go by the more innocuous name "Aronia" berry. However, I find the name choke berry to be an apt description of this fruit. It is possible to eat this straight off the plant -- I enjoy having it by the mailbox and grabbing 1 or 2 berries as I walk by -- but it does cause some lip puckering. Most people recommend always cooking it (simmering in a saucepan with a bit of water for 10-15 minutes) before using it. Then it can be used as a fruit replacement for most recipes (or so I've heard). Here are some basic tips for using these berries. Supposedly they freeze very well, without sticking together, too.

After surfing a few jam recipes, I decided they looked simple enough, so I gave that a go first.

My photos aren't quite as crisp as I'd like... my Canon is currently MIA (eek!), and my new smartphone just doesn't quite compare.... But you can still get the idea :)
 I ended up using this recipe, but all the recipes I found looked very similar. Key ingredients: aronia (choke) berries, lemon juice & sugar.   (Note: 1 kg = 2.2 lbs of berries and 350 grams of sugar = very roughly 1.5-2 cups)

This recipe calls for just the berry juice, and uses a lot more sugar. Some people recommend using maple syrup instead of sugar, if you are fortunate enough to have a good supply of that. 

Our results?
The kids helped pick the berries, I was amazed at how much our one little bush produced, and we left tons still on it! And when they licked the tasting spoon while I was cooking it, they were very excited. However, the next morning when we tried it on english muffins & toast, they were a bit disappointed. The somewhat strong "health food" taste of aronia berries was still pretty evident and they weren't prepared.... :) Next time I will experiment with the measurements a bit more. 

I was conservative with the lemon juice & sugar this time around, I will probably allow myself to be more lavish next time! I will also blend the berries after simmering them. They were soft & yummy, but still intact as little berries and made it hard to spread. Or perhaps just squeeze out the juice like the other recipe recommended? I will try to update when I find the perfect recipe for our family.

Though the outcome wasn't, perhaps, as perfect as I hoped, I was still very pleased with our harvest. I am looking forward to tweaking recipes and trying to find what will please our palate the most as we enjoy these beautiful, flavorful little (super healthy) berries!


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