Canning is a skill that has nearly faded out of reckoning, but it is a useful and satisfying skill to have. And nothing beats homemade jams and jellies! Chokecherries have produced abundantly and early this year, and can be found growing all over the Black Hills. We picked and processed pounds and pounds of berries from our bountiful chokecherry harvest, and turned them into jelly, using Grandma’s recipe (slightly modified), which made it even more fun!
Grandma’s Chokecherry Jelly
1 pound of ripe fruit or 4-5 cups of berries (should yield 3 cups juice)
1/2 c. lemon juice
1 package powdered pectin
4 1/2 c. white sugar
Juice extraction: Put 1 pound of ripe fruit (4-5 cups of berries) in a large pot and cover with water. Simmer for 15 minutes, crushing the berries as they soften. Don’t crush the pits, since they are toxic. Strain fruit and water through a colander, jelly bag, or cheesecloth, saving the juice and setting the pulp aside. Put pulp in a pot and again add water to cover. Simmer again and strain again. Discard pulp. (For every 4-5 cups of berries, you should get at least 3 cups of juice. If necessary, use fruit pulp and water once more to get to the necessary 3 cups of juice. )
Jelly: Add 1/2 cup lemon juice to 3 cups chokecherry juice. Stir in 1 package of powdered pectin. Stir well. Let the juice mixture come to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once it boils, stir in the 4 1/2 cups of sugar, stirring constantly. Bring to a rolling boil. Be careful, particularly if you have an electric stove! The juice and sugar can boil over fast! For this part of the process, an extra pair of hands is helpful – One pair to add sugar and stir, and another pair with hot pads, ready to take the pot off the stove if it begins to boil up. Let boil for 2 minutes, stirring constantly to keep it from scorching.
Skim the foam off the top. The skimmings are edible, though not can-able! Put jelly in sterilized jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes. Chokecherry jelly has become my favorite – I’ll be saving a jar back to enter in the county fair in a few weeks!
One of the best things about Black Hills weather is the coolness of the summer evenings. Even a day that reaches into the 90s and 100s will cool down to a comfortable temperature by night. We’ve gotten into the habit of eating dinner outside, because by dinnertime it is often much cooler outside than inside the house. How lovely to watch the evening settle, to have our dog nearby, to watch for the cats coming prowling in from the pastures and sheds where they doze away their days, to see and hear the bluebirds and kingbirds and cicadas.
After dinner, we worked in the garden, pulling weeds, tilling, and watering. It is terribly dry in all of South Dakota, but the Black Hills region in particular is in a state of severe drought. Forest and grass fires are a significant risk right now, and ranchers are feeling the effects of the lack of rainfall. Hay crops have been a fraction of what they are in a good year, and gardens are hard to keep watered. There isn’t much of a happy medium in this part of the country. Either we’re getting hailed out and flooded, or we’re dry as a bare-picked bone.
The sun set in a blaze of glories and we began to head towards the house. I was inside doing dishes when Mom called to me. “There’s a bat colony in the Miner’s Cabin!” she called. We had suspected as much about a month ago, but hadn’t verified this. I ran outside as fast as my sprained ankle would let me. She had already counted twelve bats leaving the Cabin attic, and we watched eight or nine more leave. What a sight! We could see them away over the stock dam, and high above our heads. We could hear them scrabbling softly before they emerged from the gable, and I could hear the tiniest, highest little vocal pitches of these amazing creatures as they wriggled out of their roost and swooped noiselessly into the evening. Judging by the number of bats we saw leave, we could have a maternity colony of fifty or more bats, including babies! We’ll have quite the project this fall making the Miner’s Cabin bat-proof. If there weren’t health risks associated with leaving bats in the attic, my vote would be to leave them. I love bats. Fascinating, beautiful little creatures.
Sarah and I watched Master and Commander this evening while I picked over chokecherries. Hopefully we’ll be making jelly on Saturday!
It is the moon of chokecherries, for which some of us have been eagerly waiting! All spring, I saw the flowers and made note of where the bushes were, and finally the fruit is ripening, ready to harvest. These small wild cherries make a delicious old-fashioned jelly, which I remember always on hand in my grandmother’s kitchen. She would put it out at nearly every meal. The chokecherries on the ranch apparently disappeared for awhile, but they have sprung up all along the driveway. Mom was in Rapid City today and visited her uncle, since he called to let her know the chokecherries were ripe at his place, and she came home with pounds and pounds of them. After she got back, a short drive up our driveway yielded another third of a gallon or so of cherries. And many more to ripen, along with a few golden currant bushes I know of on our property! I also know of a great spot for chokecherries along Hwy. 44. But it is a secret.