Cherry Bounce, Part 1

Do you have one of these in or near your yard? If you have lots of little purple berries getting squished underfoot on your sidewalk or driveway, or are hearing lots of birds squabbling in the early morning, look up. You might notice some of these: 

This is a chokecherry tree, a native cherry tree with small, tart fruit. (Tart is probably an understatement,  or at least is only accurate when they are very ripe, as the ones in the picture are. ) Some people call them pin cherries or bird cherries. 

These trees are kind of weedy, and we have several. One is a bushy monster near the fire hydrant out front, and the several more are taller and more obviously tree-like, but are technically on the neighbor's property along the line our driveways share.

But lots of the long, willowy branches hang over the fence onto our side of the driveway, and that's good news for us, since you can use these guys to make a traditional colonial cordial called Cherry Bounce.

If you do any internet research on Cherry Bounce, you are likely to find lots of references to Martha Washington's recipe, which calls for French brandy and spices. That sounds a little lah-di-dah with the French import, though, and probably wouldn't fly in New England, where the liquor of the day was rum.

Newburyport, in particular, has a proud history of distilling rum from all the molasses brought into the once-bustling port, so we're going to ditch the Washingtons' recipe in favor of one that better reflects what a New England Cherry Bounce would have been made of: local rum, imported cane sugar, and wild chokecherries. We found a more locally-minded recipe here, and it's based on a manuscript from the Plymouth Antiquarian Society's collection. The only change we're making is that we could only pick about a quarter the amount of chokecherries called for in the original, because that's all we could reach.

Step one: Pick 1 quart of ripe chokecherries:

Since these are very small fruits, this will take a while. Ripe chokecherries are glossy and nearly black, and will come off of the branch easily — sometimes too easily, and you'll drop them. And later step on them. The low hanging fruit on our bush in the front is not yet ripe, so I was forced to get out a ladder to get enough of the ripe fruit from our neighbor's tree (if we could pick from their side of the fence, we could probably have made the whole recipe). As it is, we stayed legal by only picking fruit on our own property. If this turns out well, though, maybe next summer we'll ask them for permission to get the rest. 

The chokecherry branches are willowy and very bendable, so Kirk used our pole trimmer to hook the high branches. We took turns: One of us would hold the pole to bend down the branches, and the other would get on the ladder and pick. 45 minutes later you have a quart of almost inedibly sour cherries. Hooray!

Step two: Soak the chokecherries over night:

I'm not exactly sure of the purpose of this step, but it's passive and easy, so we did it. A quart of chokecherries fits nicely in a large mixing bowl, and this sat on the counter without incident while we slept.

Tomorrow, rum gets involved.


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