Chokecherries are making themselves known this time of year. One fall day some years ago a friend visiting from Pine Ridge handed me a gift, a brown bag of chokecherry patties each about the size of a hamburger. Because they were dried, they have a long shelf life. They are easy to hydrate for tea or other use in recipes like jelly or pudding. When eaten raw they have an acidic, astringent taste. This is why many call it bitterberry.
Chokecherries are quite delicious when lightly sweetened and cooked. Because they are so tart not many varieties have been cultivated. Those that have been cultivated are sought for making a dry sherry wine. Chokecherries also make wonderful jams, jellies, and pies. Some people gather Chokecherries of and freeze them for later use. I do that myself. The stones have something called hydrocyanic acid and should be strained out as too many can make you ill.
But that’s not all, recently Native American student Destany “Sky” Pete discovered the medicinal properties of the chokecherry, which continues to be harvested and consumed in her Shoshone and Paiute Tribal communities today.
“The traditional (Shoshone and Paiute) method of preparing chokecherry pudding includes the seed of the chokecherry, crushed up,” Pete, a junior at Owyhee High School in Nevada, told ICMN. “Nowadays, some people just kind of juice the berry and take out the seed completely. But maybe the seed has medicine that can help us to stay well.”
The chokecherry tree (prunus virginiana) is more like a bush and native to North America. I think it is interesting to note the wood is used for tipi construction, bows and arrows as well as miscellaneous items made of wood.
High Plains Pudding
3 – 4 cups water
2 cups chokecherries (fresh, frozen or dried)
1 cup honey, or to taste
¼ cup flour
Combine the chokecherries with water in a saucepan. Bring to medium heat, cooking until chokecherries soften. Sweeten to taste with honey. In a small bowl blend flour and enough water to make a creamy mixture and stir this slowly into fruit mixture until thickened.
Dale Carson, Abenaki, is the author of three books: “New Native American Cooking,” “Native New England Cooking” and “A Dreamcatcher Book.” She has written about and demonstrated Native cooking techniques for more than 30 years. Dale has four grown children and lives with her husband in Madison, Connecticut.