Choke Cherries grow in abundance most years on bushes around Calgary and most of the prairies. They are also a prominent wind break around many farms and ranches. The jellies and syrups from this berry are highly popular on the prairies as many people pick their own. You can’t get more farm to table than that. Many people stop by my booth and tell me about the syrup their grandmothers used to make. Now, I am fairly certain that syrup was so prevalent because choke cherries are not that easy to get to set into a jelly. But if the result of a jelly failure is a delicious syrup, then that’s a happy accident as far as I can see.
If you don’t have access to your own crop, many people sell them. In Alberta, Pearson’s Berry Farm is a good local source.
Making the Juice:
Take 5 pounds of choke cherries and place in a pan. Cover with enough water to sink them all. A good way to measure is to put your finger into the water and touch the choke cherries. The water should be no higher than the first joint of your finger.
Bring water to a boil and then turn down the heat and simmer for an hour with the lid on. About 30 minutes in, take a potato masher and mash the berries a bit.
When done, turn the contents into a large sieve lined with cheese cloth and drain for an hour. You can also do the time-honoured method of pouring into a clean pillow case and dripping overnight.
Measure the following into a pot:
3 cups of strained juice
6 1/2 cups of sugar (yes, that’s right, 6 1/2 cups). If you put less in, your jelly will not set. Sugar binds to the water molecules and the pectin which gives you set and stops spoilage.
Bring to a hard boil and leave at that boil for 2 full minutes.
Empty 2 packages Certo liquid pectin into the pot and bring to another boil. Take off the heat and let sit for 4-5 minutes. Waiting that period of time makes it easier to skim off the foam that invariably develops because it starts to cling together adn you can almost remove it by gathering it to the side of the pot with a big shallow spoon. Also, it allows you to know if the jelly will set. If the foam is not holding together, the best thing to do is add another 1/2 cups of sugar to the pot, stir well and then put back on the heat and bring to another boil. I usually decant the pot’s contents into easy pouring pitchers. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal.
You can process in a boiling water bath for 5 minutes. Do not do this for any longer or you will ruin your set (jelly is delicate). Having said that, it is not necessary to process jellies or jams. Hot product, hot jar, hot lid and voila. Do not turn the jars upside down. Just give it 24 hours to set. If not set, but thick, wait a bit - even 3-4 days before recooking with 1/2 cup more sugar.
Note: Most recipes say to barely cover the berries in water and then cook only for 15 minutes. This method has not produced enough juice and also has given the jelly a burned taste. Also, the pectin package and all online recipes I found said to boil the juice/sugar for 1 minute and add pectin. I live in Calgary, altitude 3300 feet. I think that makes a difference and the added minute of boiling removes just that much more water to enable you to get a set.