How to Make Chokecherry Jelly (low-sugar and honey variations)

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You know what I realized this past week?

I. Love. Canning. No, really. Not just the “Yay, I get to pull homemade food out of the pantry in the winter” aspect, but I love the whole process– from sterilizing the jars to that satisfying sound of lids sealing at the end. It feels so empowering to be able to preserve wholesome food for later. But that could be because I’m kind of a food nerd…. Anyway. I was recently able to forage a lovely bucket of chokecherries from a relative’s backyard. And I just happened to be in the mood to put something in jars, so I decided to make chokecherry jelly. A chokecherry is a small cherry that often grows wild here in the West. They make wonderful syrup or jelly. Because they do have small pits in the middle, you’ll need to extract the juice. They are also fairly tart, so added sweetener is almost always required.

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Chokecherries strike me as an old-fashioned food, sort of like Lamb’s Quarters. You’ll hear members of the older generation talk about them, but many ‘modern folk’ aren’t quite sure what they are. This article has tons of useful information about identification, harvesting, and even the history of chokecherries. Traditional chokecherry jelly recipes call for loads of sugar… Like I mentioned in my Raw Strawberry Freezer Jam post, the insane amounts of sweetener kept me from making jams and jellies for quite a while. However, using a special kind of pectin called Pomona’s will enable you to make your favorite recipes using less sugar than normal, or even honey. You can use either option in the recipe below- and you might want to adjust the sweetener to taste (I found that a full 2 cups of sugar was a little too sweet for me).

Chokecherry Jelly (with low-sugar and honey variations)

  • 4 cups of chokecherry juice (I’ll tell you how to extract the juice below) 
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups of sugar OR 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 4 teaspoons of Pomona’s Pectin
  • 4 teaspoons of calcium water (this will come in your box of Pomona’s pectin)
**How to Make Chokecherry Juice**

(If you have a juicer, then definitely use that. I don’t, so I use the slightly more messy method…) After cleaning and washing your berries (try to remove as many of the little stems as possible, but don’t sweat it if you don’t get every single one) place them in a large pot and fill with enough water to just cover the fruit. Simmer for 15-30 minutes, or until the fruit softens. Then go after it with a potato masher to help mash the juice out. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined colander or jelly strainer. (A jelly strainer like this one is on my to-buy list very soon!)

All ready to go

Save back the juice and discard the pulp/pits. (I tried to give my chickens the pulp, but they weren’t interested…)

Now, on to the jelly making. Mix the chokecherry juice, lemon juice, and 4 teaspoons calcium water in a pot.

Honey/pectin mixture

Thoroughly mix the sugar or honey in a separate bowl with the 4 teaspoons of pectin. Set aside. Bring the juice mixture to a boil, then add in the pectin/sugar mixture and mix until completely incorporated. Allow it to come back to a boil, then remove it from the heat and get ready to place it in your sterilized canning jars. Fill the jars, leaving 1/4″ headspace. (New to canning? I have a detailed tutorial from start to finish- complete with pics!) Boil in a hot-water bath canner for 10 minutes (add an extra 1 minute for every 1,000 feet you are above sea level).

Kitchen Notes

  • It took a while for my jars to cool down and start to jell. Several hours after they came out of the canner, they still looked pretty runny. But by the following day, most of the jars had firmed up to jelly consistency. A couple jars took even longer. But, even if they don’t jell up as much as you like, it still makes spectacular syrup!
  • I’ve seen several sources say that over-mashing the berries while you are trying to extract juice makes the resulting jelly cloudy. And it does– but I do it anyway. Chokecherries don’t give extremely high yields to begin with, so I like to make sure I get every drop I can out of them. Cloudy jelly doesn’t bother me a bit.
  • You can usually find Pomona’s Pectin at your local health food store. Or, Amazon always carries it. I also recently had a reader tell me that you can buy it from Azure Standard in bulk, so there is another option if you can’t find it locally.
  • Check out my Six Tips for No-Stress Canning if the whole canning process sometimes leaves you feeling crazy. ;)
  • If you don’t have chokecherries, this recipe can easily be adapted for other types of berries as well. You will just need to adjust the sweetener accordingly.
  • No need to use your expensive raw honey in this recipe since it will be cooked and you’ll loose all that benefical raw-ness anyway.

I think chokecherry jelly has to be one of my most favorite jellies of all time. I love the pleasant tartness and bright color it adds to your pancakes, waffles, or buttermilk biscuitsNow just to make sure that my precious little jars last until next season!

How to Make Chokecherry Jelly (low-sugar and honey variations)

Ingredients

  • 4 cups chokecherry juice
  • 1/4 cup of lemon juice
  • 1 1/2- 2 cups sugar OR 1 1/2 cups honey
  • 4 t. Pomona's Pectin
  • 4 t. calcium water (included in Pomona's pectin)

Instructions

  1. Step 1: **How to Make Chokecherry Juice** If you have a juicer, use it! I don't, so I use this method:
  2. Clean, wash, and remove stems from berries
  3. Place in a large pot filled with enough water to just cover the fruit
  4. Simmer 15-30 minutes until fruit softens
  5. Use a potato masher to mash the juice out
  6. Strain through a cheesecloth-lined colander or jelly strainer
  7. Save the juice and discard pulp/pits
  8. Step 2: Mix chokecherry juice, lemon juice, and 4 teaspoons calcium water in a pot
  9. Thoroughly mix sugar or honey in separate bowl with 4 teaspoons pectin & set aside
  10. Step 3: Bring juice mixture to a boil
  11. Add pectin/sugar mixture, mix until completely incorporated, then return to a boil
  12. Remove from heat, get ready to place it in your sterilized canning jars
  13. Step 4: Fill the jars, leaving 1/4" headspace
  14. Boil in a hot-water bath canner 10 minutes (add an extra minute for every 1,000 feet you are above sea level)
http://www.theprairiehomestead.com/2012/08/how-to-make-chokecherry-jelly-low-sugar-and-honey-variations.html

If you are a food preservation nerd like me, you might enjoy these other posts:

If canning isn’t quite your style, you might like dehydrating instead. Delicious, Delectable, and Dehydrated is a book that will teach you all the ins and outs of preserving food via dehydration– and they just happen to be one of this month’s sponsors. ;)

This post contains affiliate links. This post shared at: Simple Lives Thursday

 

 


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Comments

  1. I’m not sure you could do it, but if you had a Vitoria strainer you might be able to take the pulp and use it to make fruit roll-ups?

    • It’s possible- I don’t have one of those, but wish I did!! :)

      • Tell me about it – me too! It would make jamming so much easier. I haunt tag sales looking for older ones. One of these days I’ll hit the jackpot. A few weeks ago I got a perfectly good, functional, clean American Harvester dehydrator with four trays and two fruit leather add-ins, for free, at the dump’s swap shop. So I hold out hope for the Vitorio. ;)

  2. I have an old Squeezo my sister in law GAVE me because she doesn’t cook let alone can…she didn’t know it was worth $300! I give her free jam every year! But I puree my strawberries, peaches and grapes to make jam/jelly because if I don’t, my kids use a half a pint of jam per sandwich! So it’s easy spreading and I feel more fruit flavor. I have never had choke cherry jelly…i’m not sure what they are or if they grow here in the East. I will look it up!

    • That’s awesome Melissa! I’m not sure if Chokecherries grow back East or not. Hopefully they do!

  3. Beautiful! I have south texas blackberry juice and New Mexican sour cherry juice waiting for me in the feezer. I had time to juice them but not time to make the jelly! What does a chokecherry taste like?

  4. If Virginia is considered “back east” than chokecherries thrive here. We have the largest tree anyone has ever seen. The Squeezo or Victorio strainer will not work because the cherry pits are too large to go through. We made choke cherry jelly once and it was downright un-palatable. No one would eat it because it was so bitter. However, you have encouraged me to try again and this time to maybe mix it with apple or something else sweet.

  5. Wow! I haven’t heard anyone ever mention this fruit since I was a little girl. Go figure. What a great recipe. Thanks for sharing! Now, I’ll be on the look-out for these little gems ?

  6. I’m planning on doing this next week! Great blog!

  7. Christine says:

    I can’t thank you enough for this post!! I just picked a little bucket of chokecherries from my parents’ farm and then thought….hmmm….it will be hard to find a low sugar recipe for making jelly with them. I just discovered Pomona’s last canning season, so I’m very glad to see someone has experimented and I will benefit! Thanks again!! As a little girl, I remember eating chokecherry syrup on pancakes and it was so delicious and brings back so many good memories! I can’t wait! :)

  8. Thanks for posting this. I haven’t had Chokecherry Jelly since I was a kid . But this summer, I found a bunch of them growing on our city’s green belt walkway. So, the next day my daughter and I went back with a bucket and started picking. the cleaned berries are in the freezer, (and it seems impossable to find a recipe–thought I was going to have to wing it) just waiting, right now I’ve been busy making Elderberry Jelly (our favorite) because I have a buyer lined up who has had a taste of it last year and just loved it. As soon as I make the chockecherry, I’m sending a jar to one of my sisters as a late birthday gift.

  9. Susan Rutherford says:

    Enjoy your information. We live in N.E. Saskatchewan, Canada where choke cherries are plentiful. We grow a few varieties, and pick wild ones (they have stronger flavor). My husband’s relatives are farmers in this area, for generations, and are excellent cooks using nature’s foods of all varieties. Hot tip given to me years ago to enhance cherry flavor in chokecherry products: be sure to add a little almond extract after all the cooking is done, just before bottling. Excellent idea for all cherry dishes.
    Our family is looking forward to this year’s chokecherry syrup, that I will make with local honey, to improve nutritional value and eliminate white sugar. My siblings, kids and grandkids are too “jumpy?” after white sugar. Thank God we all prefer real food…keeps us all from climbing the walls..we have plenty of energy as is! I’m so glad I found this site! Thank you for it!

    • Great tip about adding the almond! Yes, my kiddo gets wild and crazy after white sugar, too… I never used to believe that it really caused hyperness– but that was until I had her! :)

  10. I have wondered what could be done with the cherries. I have one in my front yard. I will have to try this . Thanks for sharing.

  11. Nice recipe. I would like to point out though, that chokecherries are not compatible with most juicers. The risk of cracking pits is high, and especially dangerous with chokecherries.

  12. Thanks for this! Last year the birds ate all my choke cherries, but got a 2 gallon bucket full this year and I finally decided to start using Pomona’s pectin in bulk, so Thank You, Thank You for having the exact recipe I needed to get started with both of these, I can now get all my other recipes transitioned to Pomona’s from sure jel, Yeah!!! Next – blackberries and wild plums! Can’t wait for the orchard to finish – I love to put up pie fillings for quick desserts with a quick crisp topping.

  13. Hi there!
    A couple of things….firstly, how many jars does one batch match approximately?
    Another thing, thanks for the tip on Pomona’s. I got a 6-pack from Amazon!
    Another tip for you or others, I actually used those real thin flour sack towels last year when I made chokecherry jelly as the strainer-type thing. It worked great. I put a bunch in and would just squeeze and squeeze, getting as much juice out as possible and then do another bunch. Obviously it stains your towel, so mine just got thrown away, but it worked perfectly!
    Happy canning all! I’ll be working on mine tomorrow. I have more chokecherries then I know what to do with. I’m experimenting this year because I don’t use white sugar anymore, so this will be interesting. :)

  14. Hi, looks good! I just shared over at Simply Canning Facebook. :) I don’t have chokecherries here so I’ve not made chokecherry jelly.

  15. Jill, this was a great year here for Chokecherries and I have alot of juice. I have made alot of jelly and still have 2 gals of juice left that I just dont have time to make into jelly right now. I am wanting to can the juice and any recipe that I find says to add sugar to the juice to can. Do you know if I just bring the juice to a boil and put it into jars and then water bath can it for 10 minutes or so…..do you think that will work. I just want to can it so I can use it later to make more jelly but dont have time right now and I hate to waste all that juice. I dont want to add all that sugar to the juice. Thanks

    • Hmmm… I’m not sure about this Carleen– is the sugar supposed to help preserve the juice, or just make it taste better? Sometimes the recipes insist on adding in the sugar purely to help with taste, and if that is the case, you could totally leave it out for now. However, if the sugar is acting as a preserving agent, I’d be leery of omitting it. Another option would be to freeze the juice (if you have room) until you have time to can it later.

      • Thank you Jill for getting back to me. I am not sure if the sugar is to preserve the juice or not it doesn’t really say. I will definetly add it when I make jelly, and in the meantime I will keep investigating. I have canned up the juice and processed it and all the jars have sealed, I won’t be leaving it to long just until I get a day to make more jelly. I do have freezer room and I can do that if I can’t get the jelly made before too long. Thank you so much for your information and I will let you know what I find out.

  16. Thanks for posting this. I pick gallons of chokecherries every year and usually make a chokecherry mead which only I enjoy. Now I can share my chokecherry passion with the rest of the family who do not like wine or meads.

  17. Cheryl St. Martin says:

    I am in the process of picking and canning chokecherries right now, as we have an abundance of them and I want to get to them before the bears clean them out. I remember that I had to keep my goats away from chokecherries because they could be fatal to ruminants. So, I checked into this online and with my local extension agent, and got this information: Chokecherry pits, if chewed and swallowed, work inside the rumen and create a cyanide poison. It is recommended that nobody eat the seeds or crush the seeds at all and ingest them. Bears can eat them but deer cannot. The leaves are also bad. I inspected every single berry while washing them. I simmered them for 15-20 minutes and the water was cloudy. I drained them through a flour-sack towel and did not put pressure on the seeds other than squeezing the bag a little. My juice looked just like your juice, so I believe this is the nature of chokecherry juice. I strained it through a very very fine sieve and it was still cloudy and left no residue in the sieve. This was one of my favorite childhood memories of picking chokecherries with my mom and helping her make the jelly. Next I’m going to wait for the berries on the tree/bush to turn dark purple and compare the taste with the burgundy colored berries.

    • Yes– thanks for the reminder Cheryl! We didn’t plant chokecherry trees in our tree row b/c we were afraid of our horses/cattle reaching over the fence and getting them. I think cloudy juice just comes with the territory, unless you have a steam juicer.

  18. Thanks for the article.

    I wanted to point out that the link to the article with tons of useful information on Chokecherries is broken. The page is located at: http://www.wildfoods.info/plants/chokecherry.html

  19. Hi Jill! I made my first batch of chokecherry jelly, and used this recipe with honey. I ended up with a partial half pint that I did not put in the canner, and it started jelling almost immediately and is a beautiful color and tastes great. The rest of the jars I put in my pressure canner and followed your tutorial (as I have an All American pressure canner), and they came out severely dark (not the beautiful color of the other one) and are still liquid the next day. Any thoughts where I went wrong? I am at 8000 feet, and so added 8 minutes for a total of 18 minutes at 15 pounds of pressure.

    • Hmmm… sorry it didn’t work for you! The recipe is actually for a water-bath canner, so I’m wondering if the increased heat from the pressure canner caused something strange to happen with the jelly. I’ve never tried doing any jam/jelly in my pressure canner before, so I don’t have any personal experience with the possible results– sorry!

  20. I’m from a small village in Ontario, Canada and my grandmother used to make chokecherry jelly when I was a kid. When she passed away I figured that no-one else (or so I thought) made it. I looked around in small country stores but couldn’t find any trace of it.
    I figured I would try my hand at making some jelly (if I could find a chokecherry tree first)… I searched and found what looked to be the right type of bush and began picking. It seemed to take forever to fill the bucket and I soon found out I had been picking what I would call pin-cherries, they seemed so tiny compared to other bushes I finally moved to along the old fence line… live and learn. I used them that first year along with the rest of the larger cherries and didn’t do too badly with the final product… turned out a little bit too thick for my liking. I think it was because I had used CERTO as the source of pectin. Makes it more like jello than jelly.
    During the year that followed, I ran into one of the ladies my grandmother knew from around the area. She mentioned using green (unripened apples) during the cooking process instead of CERTO… I tried it and it worked well, great jelly consistency but still used a lot of sugar… Not that I mind… I do like sweet stuff. I may have to try using a little honey instead sometime. BTW… excellent website! Shalom

    • Yes– there is a way to make your own pectin from green apples– I have that on my “to-try” list someday! Sounds like your jelly was delicious– you just can’t beat chokecherry. Thanks for taking the time to comment!

  21. I need to to thank you for this wonderful read!! I absolutely loved every little bit of
    it. I’ve got you saved as a favorite to look at new stuff you post…