I’m living in a sweet, residential neighborhood of a small town on the western slope of Colorado, the North Fork Valley. The street has a lush canopy of leaves, my home is a 106 year old renovated two story, with plenty of trees and flowers, and a rich garden plot in the back. It really has a bonanza of edible wonders. It feels like such a gift to have found it! I’m renting from wonderful people strong in the Buddhist community here. In the front is a big black walnut tree, producing more this year than the little handful last fall. I was surprised at the lemony smell of the fresh hulls as I picked up a few yesterday that had already fallen.
The grape bower in the back is loaded with a weighty amount of seedless pink Reliance grapes, and a green Thompson which hasn’t produced, I hear, in quite a while.
There are massive elderberry bushes on the side and in the back garden,
an Italian plum, as my mother used to call them,
a “summer” apple, a big old apricot, even a scraggly little sour cherry next to the driveway.
The magnificent chokecherry in the side yard really captivated me this spring.
The spring “return of the bees” created a dizzy volume of buzzing sound in the side yard. They paid me no mind, in their singular, heady focus on all those flowers. Chokecherry is a well-known, widespread wild tree. They remind me of growing up climbing trees in Iowa, and of autumn hikes here in Colorado. Bear scats filled with chokecherries mark their fall habitat in the woods and on the trails. And, most dear to my heart, chokecherries remind me of a Lakota man named George I knew years ago. I met him at a full moon drum circle on the Pawnee Grasslands of eastern Colorado. We drummed with a great group of people on a beautiful stretch of earth under a clear, clear sky. At dusk we all walked back towards the cars to set up a potluck dinner. George brought a dish of pemmican he had made himself. The ingredients were ground chokecherries, dried elk meat, fat, and a little bit of sugar. At that time I was a true vegetarian, and didn’t sample his traditional offering. Another day we went on a hike together up in the mountains, and I think he was a little bit sweet on me. I deferred, and we went our separate ways, I hear he’s happily married now. I’m glad for him – and I still remember his pemmican recipe, ground chokecherry pits and all.
Now, early August 2012, three plus months and a prickly neighbor dispute later about all the suckers from this tree, the copious amount of chokecherries attracting birds which leave purple droppings on their cars – ending somewhat peaceably as I went over to shake hands, listen to some extended anti-hippie ranting, professing my intentions of wanting to be good neighbors by taking care of the yard, the suckers, the colors which stray out of the lines —- and now, the tree is laden with chokecherries. In my world, I love the tree and all it stands for. And, it is time. I needed to make good on my statement I intended to make jelly from the harvest.
Well, it actually ended up being a lovely syrup, or sauce. At least my first overture this season. It hasn’t utilized very many of the thousands of chokecherries on the tree, but I’ve had some beautiful help. Evening grosbeaks, young robins, and a couple of roving starlings have been hanging out at the smorgasbord, feasting. I only pray they know just where NOT to do a fly over.
The chokecherry syrup recipe is so easy – I don’t even measure the two ingredients: chokecherries and honey. I have a pictorial which includes embellishments towards a great summer dessert:
Honey Lavender Shortcakes with Caramelized Peaches and Chokecherry Sauce… gluten free, of course. First, the sauce.
Into a large pot they go, and those few tiny stems won’t matter – just cover the chokecherries with water, bringing to a boil over medium high heat. The amount shown here is approximately 6-7 cups. This will make 2 half pints of syrup – and a little goes a long way!
Let the magic, the alchemy of water, fire and fruit continue until the chokecherries swell, expand, and give off rich, purple juice as they begin to break down. Turn down the heat a little, to a good simmer, stirring to keep the fruit from sticking as time goes on. The juice will slightly thicken. I imagine this is about 20 or 25 minutes. You may like to gently mash the cherries with a potato masher while they are simmering.
Decide when it’s time to strain the juice, before the juice thickens too much. Use a fine mesh strainer over a good sized bowl. Using the back of a ladle, press to release as much liquid as possible. Meanwhile, wash out your pot, and set back on the stove. Pour the strained juice back into it.
Pour in about 2/3 – 3/4 cup good local honey (I used the excellent Colorado “Ambrosia” Western Slope unfiltered honey – with an elusive flowery flavor). Chokecherries, as you may know, are not a sweet fruit on their own. They need a little coaxing. Stir often as the syrup is reducing, discovering a perfect thickened state, then pour into hot sterilized jars (to 1/8 inch from the top) and seal. Process 5 minutes in a boiling water bath, lift out and let cool, checking the lids after cooling to make sure they are tight.
With the syrup made, think of all the delectable ways you will share it – over peach icecream?? Waffles, pancakes, French toast? Oh yes. Last night, I was in the mood for something a little complex, and so, tried a new recipe I’m going to call Honey Lavender Shortcakes. Then, I caramelized fresh local peaches and drizzled it all with — the chokecherry syrup.
Gluten Free Honey Lavender ShortCakes
makes about 24 mini shortcakes
- 1 c. oat flour
- 1 tbsp. coconut flour
- 1/2 c. toasted coconut
- 1/2 c. toasted almonds
- 1 tbsp. lavender buds
- 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1/4 c. quality butter, softened
- 2/3 c. honey
- 1 /3 c. almond milk (or other favorite milk)
Equipment: Food processor, mixer, medium bowl for whipping egg whites, 2 buttered mini cupcake pans (or other cake baking configuration)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Whip egg whites in bowl with mixer until stiff peak stage is reached. Grind nuts and coconut in food processor until fine. Add rest of dry ingredients, pulse to blend. Open processor, add rest of ingredients except egg whites and blend until smooth. Fold in whipped egg whites by pulsing briefly several times. Add a bit more milk to achieve a smooth yet thick batter. Spoon high into muffin tins, slide onto center shelf of oven and bake for 21-24 minutes until lightly browned. (The last 5 minutes or so may benefit from covering cakes lightly with a loose piece of foil to prevent overbrowning.) Pull from oven and let cool a minute or two. Use a sharp knife to lift shortcakes from pans. Let cool a little longer before serving. The little shortcakes texture first resembles a macaroon cookie, wrapped overnight they develop a fine, moist texture.
- fresh peaches, as many as you like, washed and sliced
- butter for sauteeing the peaches
- a little honey
- a little pinch of lavender buds
- tiny splash of vanilla
Heat a skillet, toss in a good nob of butter, let come to a sizzle and add peaches, sauteeing over medium high heat with the rest of ingredients, tossing until fragrant and lightly browned (caramelized). Prepare plates of little cakes, arrange caramelized peaches and drizzle chokecherry syrup over…