I really enjoy foraging for foods in urban environments, you just never know what you are going to find. In the spring, keep a good eye out for various kinds of flowering trees in an urban or suburban setting–any tree that is flowering is a tree that is worth looking at closely and identifying. Most frequently, they are flowering crabapples (which are awesome for jellies and other things) or flowering cherries but sometimes you are rewarded with something extra special. Spotting flowering trees at a distance and identifying them is how I found a boatload of urban foragibles this year. Back in June, a few friends and I harvested upwards of 10 lbs of serviceberries from a urban spot in town, and I had spotted another grouping of trees I was excited to return to in the fall–Cornus Mas, or Cornelian Cherry.
These are in the dogwood family and have absolutely beautiful flowers in the spring. Cornelian cherries are not native to Pennsylvania or anywhere in the US, but like serviceberry, they are frequently planted as ornamentals so you can find them if you look around. In fact, the ones I found were planted right near the serviceberry; they are all “small” trees that don’t get too big. I found four Cornus mas trees and have been patiently checking them all summer to see their fruits ripen. As we near the fall equinox, their fruits grow deep red and drop–and are a wonderful treat for those who seek them out. In terms of flavor, Cornelian cherries are fairly similar to a sour cherry flavor, but they have more floral undertones and a different level of complexity. After they are cooked, they also can take on a kind of cranberry taste, but without any bitterness. Truly, they are a fruit in and of themselves, and they are well worth trying for new and interesting tasting experiences! This post, part of my foraging / wild foods series, will introduce you to harvesting and several recipes for these delightful treats!
Harvesting Cornelian Cherry requires some patience. The fruit, while still on the tree, are usually super tart with a good amount of tannins. They take all summer to ripen. They go from hard and green to lighter yellow/red to darker red, and finally almost to a deep red/purple. When they are ripe, they are soft to the touch and have a hint of sweetness and are deep red, almost purple. You can harvest them less ripe if you cook them more or let them sit out on the counter for a few days, but you won’t get that really good floral undertone that is only present with a *very* ripe Cornelian cherry.
Every few days, I’ve been checking in on the trees, and they are finally ripening. One tree dropped all of its cherries while I was at Stones Rising last weekend and the birds cleaned those up in a hurry, but this week, two friends and I harvested a very nice ripe tree, and there are two more than appear to be ripe next week. They are two different cultivars, but individual trees seem to ripen at slightly different times.
You can harvest them from the ground, which will give you the ripest ones. You can also harvest them from any tree ready to give its fruit. In this way, it is like an apple–you know the fruit is ripe when the tree gives it to you with minimal effort. If you are there taking stems and having to pull on it, it is not quite ripe. You can harvest under-ripe ones, but you need to prepare them differently than ripe ones.
Most of the recipes for this amazing fruit come from the lands where they grow natively–Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, and so on. I have looked at a lot of recipes online for the fruit, and have made some adaptations based on safety and canning here in the US. I have drawn a lot from Fig and Quince but added my own touch.
Cornelian Cherry Persian Moraba and Sharbat (Aka. Cornelian Cherry Whole Cherry Jam + Simple Soda Syrup)
You get two kinds of products from one recipe–a whole cherry jam (that contains the pits) and a Sharbat/simple soda syrup that can be used for a variety of things. I have adapted this for safety standards for canning so that you can get a long shelf life out of this delicious fruit! Note that the flavors of Cornelian cherry are fairly muted and subtle–you can add other stuff (like coriander or mint, which is very traditional) but doing so loses some of the flavor of the cherries themselves.
For this recipe, you will need hot water bath canning equipment (jars, new lids, hot water bath canner, lid lifter, jar lifter, towel).
- 6 cups of Cornelian Cherries, washed and drained
- 6 cups of water
- 6 cups of sugar
Moraba / Cornelian Cherry Whole-Fruit in Syrup
Combine your cherries, water, and sugar and bring the mixture to a boil. If you have very ripe cherries, you will want to just boil it and then immediately can it. If you have a mix or some that are really not ripe, you will want to cook them longer; up to 10 minutes. I have found that if you let them have their skins crack a little bit, you can get the sugar more deeply into the tart fruit, which helps. Canning will make that sugar go deeper and soften them up beautifully. Of course, you have less firm fruit, but that’s ok.
While this is going, prepare your jars and lids for canning (heating them up to a boil to sterilize and keeping your boiling water going). Fill your jars full of the cherries and then pour liquid over, giving 1/4″ head space for half pints and 1/2″ headspace for pints. Leave a handful of berries floating in the remaining liquid for your Sharbat. If you have a regular sized canner, you will need to hot water bath these for 10 minutes (15 for pints) before preparing the second recipe.
Sharbat / Cornelian Cherry Soda Syrup
The Cornelian Cherry sharbat is probably my favorite of the different preparations that I’ve tried. In Turkey, a Sharbat is a concentrated syrup beverage mixed into water. If you want, here in the US, we prepare something very similar but instead, we mix it into fizzy water/seltzer water and then enjoy it as a homemade soda. Either is a good option for this second recipe. After you have pulled out almost all of the fruit, you should be left with a deep red liquid that has a really nice flavor–tart, slightly floral, slightly fruity, and sweet. Make sure this is near boiling, and again, prepare your jars for canning. Fill to 1/4″ headspace for half pints and 1/2″ headspace for pints and then can (hot water bath) these for 10 minutes for half pints and 15 minutes for pints.
To enjoy the Sharbat, you can add about 10-20% liquid to 80-90% cold water. It is incredibly delicious and refreshing (and probably packed with good Vitamin C among other things!) You could also pour this into mixed drinks or over ice cream and so on.
You don’t have to can either of these–you can eat them fresh. But this volume of material does give you enough to preserve for a long time.
Marinated Cornelian Cherry “olives”
In fact, Cornelian Cherries have pits like olives, so they can be made into them. I also got this recipe from Fig and Quince, but I have some major revisions to make it tasty. Remember that Cornelian Cherries are super tart until ripe–this recipe only works best with the ripest of ripe cherries. Otherwise, you end up with these really tart vinegary balls that aren’t anything really like olives, they are just super sour. If you use the most recipe cherries, however, you can end up with a really nice flavor. The recipe is simple, you add in your very ripe cherries, then pour vinegar over them so that they are fully submerged. You can add other things here as well if you’d like. Keep them in the fridge (like a refrigerator pickle). A few combinations I’ve tried:
- White vinegar / Cherries / Mint – Very good.
- High quality balsamic / cherries – Very good.
- Peach blush balsamic / Cherries – Awesome.
- Apple Cider Vinegar / Cherries – Good and local.
I like the addition of the mint, but be careful you don’t add too much. It can be very overpowering.
I haven’t yet tried a fruit leather, but I believe they would make a nice fruit leather as well. This is a very versatile fruit and a little sweet added to it makes a complex and delicious flavor. I hope that if you can find some Cornelian Cherries, these delightful recipes will help you enjoy them in the winter months!