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Making Chokecherry Syrup

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Yesterday I made Chokecherry Syrup from the wild chokecherries we picked earlier in the week.  Making fruit syrups is easy as can be, and the taste is divine.

It’s also a wonderful way to “Make it Do.”  In the case of these Chokecherries… the fruit was free.  I have a lot of canning jars… both handed down to me from my husband’s grandmother… and given to me by a mother’s hair stylist (bless his heart!)  I think when people know you are canning, the equipment just makes it’s way to you.  If you don’t have canning jars and equipment given to you, the first year of canning can be a bit expensive.  But canning supplies will last for many years, so think of it as an investment.  Be sure to check thrift shops or the like before you plunk down big bucks.  Beyond the jars, you need a lot of sugar and a little almond extract to make delicious syrup.

This was my first time making Chokecherry syrup.  But the recipe and process for making syrup is very similar to making most berry syrups.

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After picking the wild cherries, I washed them thoroughly in a large strainer, making sure to pick out any leaves or stems.

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Next you have to extract the juice.  I use a juice steamer.  The steamer I use is many years old and borrowed from my mother-in-law.  Like most canning equipment, it can get old and beat up… and it can still do a great job.

This brings up another good point about canning.  Canning equipment is an excellent thing to share in a family.  You just don’t use your equipment enough to need your own.  If you live close to family or dear friends for that matter, why not go in on equipment together? or each buy an item?  I’ve shared equipment with my husband’s family for many years… and everyone gets along great, we even sometimes get together to do our canning.  We all share my mother-in-law’s juice steamer, Victorio strainer (which I use to make the best applesauce in the world) and her pressure cooker.

If you don’t have access to a juice steamer, I am told you can can boil your cherries and then let them drain through a strainer.  But it’s a slow process.

I extracted between 4 to 5  cups of juice to about a gallon of fruit.  The yield depends on the quality of the fruit.

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Next, make the syrup.  Add 6 cups of sugar to 3 cups of juice.  (Yes I know, it’s a lot of sugar… but it is syrup after all!)  Stirring constantly, bring syrup to a rolling boil and let it boil for 1 full minute.  This will thicken your syrup… too long and it will be very thick…. not long enough and it’s too runny.

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Remove the syrup from the stove and add 1/2 tsp. almond extract.

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Using a slotted spoon, skim off the foam from the syrup.  Don’t ask me why, but I find this job oddly satisfying.  I love how the foam kind of sticks together…

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Next pour the hot syrup into hot and sterilized canning jars.  This recipe make 7 half pint jelly jars.  I sterilize the jars in my dishwasher and leave them in there to keep warm until I need them.  You also want to get your lids ready by simmering them in hot water for a few minutes, but be careful not to boil them.  When filling the jars I love to use my wide mouth funnel made for canning.  Also be sure to leave at least a 1/4 inch space at the top of the jar.

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I always run a clean, damp cloth around the rim of my jar to remove any spilled syrup.

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Then put on the lids and bands… making sure to tighten the bands “finger tight.”

I used a steam canner to process my syrup today.  I am told they are way out of fashion in the canning world these days… but I love my steam canner for processing simple and short cans like syrup, jams or jellies.  My boiling water canner is too big to use for these small projects.

Because I am at a higher altitude, I processed my cans for 15 minutes.  You don’t start timing until you have 8 inches of steam coming out of the steamer, or if using a boiling water canner, when it is at the boil.  For the rest you who aren’t at altitude, the typical process time is 10 minutes.  The best thing is to check your local state extension service or equivalent service.  They can tell you them best processing times and tips on canning for your area.  I find I call them at least once during canning season.  I have tried to write down processing times, etc. on a recipe card… because even though I have made applesauce for 9 years running, I still forget how long it needs to process in the canner from year to year.

When the steam is done, remove the jars carefully to a clean towel and let them stand for 12 hours before washing them off and putting them in the pantry.  One of my favorite parts is hearing all the lids popping after they are done.  That means they are sealing.  If you don’t get a seal, you can always reprocess syrups, or stick it in the refrigerator and use it up.

If you like black cherry flavor, you would love this syrup.  But keep in mind, if you don’t have Chokecherries growing in your neighborhood, there are plenty of wonderful fruits suitable for syrups.

On a sad note, I did have one casualty today:

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One of my jars broke while processing.  I hate when that happens!  Not only is it a bit of a mess, I hate loosing my precious hard work.  I knew immediately what happened when I heard the pop from the canner… but there was nothing I could do about it, so I just let it keep processing.  I have a can break every few years, and I always try to second guess what happened, were my jars not hot enough going into the canner?  Was the bottle weak?  Maybe someone wiser than me knows…

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It’s a lovely thing to see your finished jars all in a row.  I can’t wait to put them on my pantry shelves.  Or even better, to use my new Chokecherry syrup to drown some homemade buttermilk pancakes.

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49 Responses to “Making Chokecherry Syrup”

  • Terry:

    What a beautiful batch of syrup! I love to read your blog….you always give great details on your projects! I recently moved to Utah and never knew you could pick your own fruit just by taking a walk in your neighborhood! Good job. :)

  • jmransom:

    Calli, thanks for showing us the broken jar! It’s reassuring to know that things don’t always turn out perfectly. I was just thinking the other day how overwhelming blogs can be because they never show any of the mistakes. But you continue to be an exception to the rule.

  • Picking chokecherries brings back fond memories. As for the steam canner, I tossed mine, yes, I tossed it, after far to many broken jars! This year I invested in a water bath canner made specifically for pint jars and I love it! Using the “big daddy” to process smaller jars was far more time consuming, and so much of what I do now is in pints.
    Love your blog, keep going.

    • So maybe it is the steam canner that breaks my jars occasionally! I love to use it for little projects. My boiling water canner hold 9 quart jars and is just overkill for 1/2 pint jelly jars. I use the steamer for my jelly’s and jam’s. For everything else I love my big boiling water canner.

  • goamwat:

    Perfect timing. I stumbled across this post right as our chokecherries are ripening.

    Going on a hike today so I can enjoy a different type of syrup on my pancakes. Liking the blog so far. Will certainly return.

  • Lisa Benner:

    I just stumbled onto your blog. I’ve been making chokecherry syrup & jelly for years but have found that I always have to redo the jelly. I was wondering if you’ve ever made chokecherry jelly and if you have, have you ever run into the trouble I’m having? I keep my batches small, have increased the amount of pectin and boil for the appropriate altitude… still the same problem. It always seems to jell after the second processing, however. What am I doing wrong? Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated, if you have any. Thank you.

    • Hi Lisa, I haven’t made Chokecherry Jelly before… but have made many other jellies and jams. The best advice I can give you is to use Sure Jell. I have tried other brands and always get the consistently great results from Sure Jell. I can’t say that for other brands. The other bit of advice I can give is to be sure to measure your ingredients very carefully… I use a spatula to level my sugar and I follow the directions exactly. I have a neighbor who makes Chokecherry Jelly and I can ask her what recipe she uses for the jelly when she is back in town after Labor Day and I’ll let you know. Cheers, Calli

    • RK in Denver:

      I realize this is rather late in coming, but I’ve made chokecherry jelly many, many times. However, I don’t use commercial pectin, at all, ever.

      I don’t use pectin for a couple of reasons: first, it doesn’t always jell, and 2) it requires MUCH more sugar than making jelly the original way, which means that the flavor is more diluted and too sweet for my taste. The speed of doing it that way, to me, is not a good enough tradeoff for the less intense flavor. Your mileage may vary, of course.

      I use the directions for no-pectin jelly making in the Joy of Cooking. 4 cups juice, 3 cups sugar, boil over medium heat until enough water has boiled off and the syrup starts to thicken. When you pour some of the syrup off your spoon, and the drops sort of join each other and fall off together, it’s done. There’s also a lovely booklet called In Search of Wild Jelly that explains it too. If you’re worried about it not jelling because they’re very ripe, you can always chunk up one apple and add it to the picked chokecherries. HOwever, it’s just a matter of chemistry–when enough water has boiled off as steam, it WILL jell. Just takes patience, is all.

    • Pat Scott:

      To make chokecherry jelly you can follow the same recipe for cherry jelly in the cero Box

  • Ellen Low:

    I have been phoning all my frends and family for the recipe for the chokecherry syrup as my Aunty used to make it when i was a kid . Thankyou. I’m also interested in the juice steamer , what is the brand name &model as I would be interested in buying one or a used one some where. Could you please e-mail me back with some info. Thankyou Ellen

    • The steamer I use is very old and borrowed from my mother-in-law. Even though it is old and slightly beaten up, it works wonderfully. My neighbor has the one in the post I linked to on Amazon… and she really likes it. I would definitely look for a used one at garage sales or thrift shops, as it isn’t something you use very often… only during canning season. I know you can also use a jelly bag http://www.canningpantry.com/jellystrainer.html but I have never used one… so I can’t tell you the best way to use them. I wish you the best and hope your chokecherry syrup is just what you remember. Cheers, Calli

      • Doris:

        To extract the juice from the cooked chokecherries I let them get cooled down, then put them in an 8 inch piece of nylon stocking. Tie it at both ends, and wring the juice out of the berries. Throw the stocking away, and use a new 8 inches for the next, and the next.
        As to pint jars: If they were washed in my dishwasher with last heat cycle I consider them sterile. The tops (or caps) however have to be boiled to soften the rubber on them so they will seal.
        As to syrup or jelly I always name mine after they are finished. That way I am never wrong!
        Doris, from Alberta, Canada

    • I found a stainless steel steam juicer at a Ace Hardware Store. If they don’t have one in stock they might order one for you.
      I have used one for canning for 25 years. So much easier! I like the pure juice instead of the watered down juice you get from boiling berries in water!

  • Lily:

    Calli, your photos are so beautiful! I love the jam it is as beautiful as it is delicious. I love your Blog!

  • Karen Huffman:

    your syrup is beautiful! Mine tastes great but it never thickens .very thin! any suggestions?

    • Karen, how long do you boil your syrup? You may need to boil it just a little longer. My syrup is not as thick as artificial maple syrup, but a lot like real maple syrup consistency. I boil my syrup at a rapid boil for one minute with a timer. Too short and it will be thin… too long and it will be thick. I hope that helps. Let me know if that works. all the best, Calli

  • Hey very nice blog!!….I’m an instant fan, I have bookmarked you and I’ll be checking back on a regular….See ya

  • patti:

    Hey there! I am from Alberta in Canada and the berries you used look like Pincherries to me? Choke-cherries here are dark purple, make your mouth pucker (and turn purple) when you eat them and make a much deeper purple syrup. We pick pincherries in the wild bush, often right beside the chokecherry trees and can only tell the difference because the pincherries actually look like tiny little cherries growing on a double stem and the chokes have a single stem per berry. The taste is quite different too. We love the Pincherry tartness though and use it to make jelly all the time but I think I will try your recipe using both berries this year!

  • jennifer:

    Thanks for the info on canning chokecherries, I just picked a huge bowl full and still have more to do. I usually have a bottle break and the main reason for bottle breakage is temperature. If the temp. of the liquid is not equal in all aspects it breaks. Glass needs to be heated slow up and slow down or break all temp. of liquid have to match the glass. Thanks.

  • jennifer:

    Thanks for the info on canning chokecherries, I just picked a huge bowl full and still have more to do. I usually have a bottle break and the main reason for bottle breakage is temperature. If the temp. of the liquid is not equal in all aspects it breaks. Glass needs to be heated slow up and slow down, or it will break. All temp. of liquid have to match the glass. Thanks.

  • Linda:

    surfing the web looking for the cure for chokecherru jelly that wont jel…I used the sure jel and followed the directions exactly….am wondering if I should have boiled it longer????

    • Marianne Kipper:

      I live at high altitude, 7100′, and I boiled for 3 minutes. My jelly actually was a little too jelled for me but everyone else thinks it’s great. I used 4C sugar & 1 Sure Jell for 3 1/2 C juice. Next time I would keep a rolling boil only until it coats the spoon or even a better clue is when it begins to cling between the tines of a fork, which would be about 2 minutes.

      My syrup didn’t work with the same ratio of sugar, even though it is sweet enough. I will have to reboil it with more sugar. I did not add any pectin.

  • rockelle dixon:

    If your jars are too old they will break, so actually they say to never get your jars at thrift stores! I have been making choke cherry syrup for years. One year I even got 3 boils in of the fruit. This is my favorite pancke topping and icecream topping etc. BUT I have never used almond falovoring in it. I will have to try that one next year. and byt the way, my syrup from the 3rd boiling of my berries was even better then the first bnoiling. Odd and weird but true!

  • [...] the middle of winter, today it was plain waffles with your choice of syrup… maple, blueberry, chokecherry, or my personal favorite, huckleberry syrup.  My son divided his waffle and tried all the syrups [...]

  • We are trying to go more healthy, so I am wondering if anyone has ever used a sweetener like Splenda? When I tried it last year it took a lot of pectin to get it to thicken. I also was told to add some green apple to the batch for added pectin, which I did this year. I have yet to process it. Also, 2-1 on sugar seems extremely sweet. I prefer 1-1 on juice/sugar. But then I can’t tolerate regular pop. Also, of note is I had a jar develope mold, after some time in the frig while never having seen this in any commercial jellies. Do they use some sort of preservative? What about adding vinegar? Anything I have ever had with vinegar added to it never seems to ever develope any spoilage. I know vinegar is a natural preservative. I have a light but active sweet tooth, so am concerned about Diabetes, which is rampart in our country! Sourness can very in berries from year to year, and as I do not like a heavy sweetness, I sample my juice as it is finishing. Generally I start with 1/2 to 1 cup less sugar/sweetner than called for until I get the taste I want. This can create a problem with thickening, so more pectin and boiling may be needed, but taste is of more importance to me than the runniness if I need to choose. My syrup as myself is still a work in progress! I also enjoyed all the comments and hope this is helpful. Thanks!

  • Sheila:

    does anyone know about the pits in chokecherry’s and if they are truly toxic? I have a great recipe and have tasted it, where is says to grind the whole cherry, then cook with water etc. to then exract the juice for syrup or jelly. It was the best jelly ever but now I read that the pits are supposedly toxic?
    Any knowledge of this?

    • Calli:

      Yes, the pits are toxic (just like peaches and apricots). I wouldn’t eat them!

    • RK in Denver:

      Yes, chokecherry pits are toxic, BUT heating destroys the alkaloid that causes that.

      There’s something from a South Dakota state college? or a county extension in S Dak. that I found which explains that. The Lakota and Shoshone were and still are making pemmican and dried chokecherries which they ate pits and all, and the state document explained that the heat of sundrying made that possible. Here’s the link: http://www.sdstate.edu/sdces/fcs/upload/ExEx14104.pdf‎

      Still, just to be on the safe side if I’m going to make chokecherry ‘leather’ or something, I’ll GENTLY smash up the fruits without crushing the pits, and then sieve out the pits before drying the pulp.

      • Marianne Kipper:

        I used my mother’s and maybe grandmother’s very old meat grinder for the fruit. It works great and doesn’t munch the pits. Then just add boiling water to cover the mash and let it sit overnight. You can just pour the juice off the now hardened mash and put it through a strainer and then cheesecloth. Easy and quick.

  • Cris:

    You don’t mention whether or not water is added to the berries to get out the juice in the beginning of the process. If any how much should I use? BTW you have a great website with great photos and explanations.

  • Thanks for the help today! I had a few containers full of chokecherry juice in my fridge just waiting for me to take the next step. I’m waiting on the jars to pop right now. Love your blog.

  • I just finished a batch of choke cherry jelly. Mine has always set. Just Cover picked berries with water, gently simmer for 30 min. Strain through cheesecloth. For my recipe I use is mcp pectin. It’s a little cheaper here, don’t know why. Pre measure sugar 4 1/2cups, into a bowl. Mix 3cups of juice, 1/2cup lemon juice, 1pkg Pectin, in a pot, bring to a full rolling boil, high heat. Add sugar, bring back to full rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes. Pour into prepared jars, leaving 1/8 inch of space process with a gentle boil for 5 minutes. I don’t dare change the recipe. Any leftover juice I make into syrup.

  • Lump Gulch Gang:

    We are making this right now! Whew! We have our juice and moving along to the next step an inch at a time. Used Nanna’s old (clean) pantyhose for straining too! Were glad we put our strained mixtures through one last run through some clean pantyhose wrapped around a metal strainer. It really pulled a lot of “sediment”. We are finding out this syrup creation is quite labor intensive from pick to cooled jar. Will be proud of our finished product for sure! BIG QUESTION FOR CALLIE OR OTHER READER!!!: Can we double the recipe and do 6 cups juice to 12 cups sugar at a time in one big pot? Thanks for answering! Maybe you will answer before we move along in the process, otherwise will see how she goes! Thanks for the recipe, Sincerely, The Lump Gulch Chokecherry Gang, Clancy, MT

    • With most canning recipes I never alter the process, either to double or change up ingredients. I would do it in single batches, even though I can think of reason why doubling it wouldn’t work. I hate to do more work than necessary, but I never know if there is an important reason for the amounts. I wish you the best of luck! It is a lot of work, but SO worth it.

  • the swamp witch:

    My family has won state and local fair awards for both chokecherry syrup and jelly for decades. We pick the berries, pour them down an old wool blanket, all the junk sticks to the wool and then we float them to wash the berries, bad ones are easy to see. We NEVER boil the berry, always putting the fruit in a large steel pot, and pouring boiling water over the berries until they are covered. The amount is no matter, it’s whatever we picked. Then, it sits until the water is cool, we use a potato masher to break up the softened fruit until it’s a slurry. Then drained in cheesecloth, never squeezing the bag, it will drain nearly dry overnight. Squeezing can add a bitterness.

    This technique gives a super clear juice. Then the juice is made into syrup, the old fashioned way, slow cooking in a steel pot, never aluminum — cup for cup ratio of juice to sugar until it’s spoon tests for the right thickness. Corn syrup can be added for a smoother texture for syrup, jelly just takes a little longer And a side note, most of my jars are 50-70 years old, it’s temperature changes, and tiny flaws that break jars, not age, I lose about 1 a year.

  • Marianne:

    Do you pick your chokecherries when they are red or when they turn purple. The bears start to eat them when red, so I don’t know how long you can wait to pick them. If they are purple do you need more Sure Jell for the jelly?

    • The Cherry Picker:

      I have used both red (not quite ripe) and purple (ripe) chokecherries for syrup, and haven’t been able to tell any difference in the final product. We have to compete with bears and birds for the cherries, so if you wait until they are ripe, there won’t be any left. I’ve never made jelly, so have no suggestions, as to pectin.

  • Kerrie:

    Hi! I live in SLC and my mom always talks about her father’s chokecherry syrup. She grew up in Logan and my grandpa passed a while ago. I’ve been wanting to make it for years but I have no idea where to find the cherries. Can you please tell me where you get yours? I’d be so excited to finally try this syrup!

    • Hi Kerrie, I’m not sure if the crop is still on, since it was so hot this year, things seem to be a bit early, but we pick them right here in Alpine. They grow wild, you just need to learn what to look for. (This is critical, since you don’t want to pick a poisonous berry by accident!) I suspect they grow up and down the Wasatch front. If the crop is spent here at the lower elevations, you might have luck looking in the Canyons or up toward Heber. I’m not sure if they can help you, but I would try calling the Utah State Extension Service for advice on if the crop is still on, and suggestions of where to look.

  • Rebekah:

    I would very much like to try this recipe out and can it. My question is if I can this syrup using boiling water canning method, do I have to add any lemon juice or anything like that to the recipe? That’s probably a dumb question but I’m kind of new to all this. Thanks for posting this – it’s really helpful!

  • Brenna:

    Chokecherry jelly is my all-time favorite! My girls and I just picked a bunch and I wanted to make some syrup this year along with my jelly. I live at 9,000 feet so it takes forever to get the water to boil but it worth it! Thanks for sharing!

  • [...] harvest is in, and syrup made, thanks to the help of my visiting mom and sister (and another friendly neighbourhood [...]

  • di:

    I have a few questions. I actually did mine in a good ole pan of my mother’s. Then I used cheese cloth and hung to drip, and then used gloves and got about as much or more by squeezing it. Now my question is I remember my mom saying 1 cup sugar to one cup of juice. What is the reason for the double sugar? Then do you really have to can them? Is that to keep them preserved?

  • JoAnne:

    I love chokecherry syrup – but try it on sourdough pancakes. The sour’er the better! It is a really old fashioned but awesome treat :D.

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