The Lost Bottle of Chokecherry Wine

I came across it while moving. It was hiding amongst the vinegar bottles that look the same. A precious bottle of sparkling, party dress red colored Chokecherry wine.

My blog post on How to Make Chokecherry Wine from nearly five years ago has been my overwhelmingly most popular article. It has had well over five thousand views. I haven’t seen any chokecherries growing in southern Colorado so haven’t made any since. It was fun to open that old memory filled bottle.

Back in my kitchen in Kiowa, about five years ago this week, I poured the half gallon jars of dark, tart chokecherries into a large pot. My tiny one and a half year old granddaughter, Maryjane, had assisted me in picking the chokecherries from the numerous bushes around our old rented farmhouse.

I poured a little wine into a glass so I could see the color. The red had tiny glimmers of orange, denoting age. The aroma was of summer berries. Hints of strawberry came through the chokecherry in the flavor with just a hint of bitter and sweet. And it was hot! I don’t mean temperature, I mean alcohol! I don’t have anything to test it with, but Doug said it was probably the same as rum or other spirits.

In two ounces of chokecherry wine, I added 3 ounces of cold white wine, and 2 ounces of fresh apple cider. It was a delicious fall cocktail. It was quite fun finding the lost bottle of chokecherry wine. I hope you are busy preserving. This weekend I think I will try my hand at making apple wine!

How to Make Chokecherry Wine

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A year from now we’ll have a tasting.  The tiny sip I had of the dregs was delicious.  Not vinegary at all and I am excited to see how it transforms itself in the next year while resting in the back of the closet.  I have wanted to make wine for some time.  It’s been on my Homesteading To-Do List of skills I must learn.  And in homesteading fashion I used what I had…some nice Pinot Noir grapes?  Nope, chokecherries.

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An old recipe in my friend Sandy’s book read as so:

Grind fruit.

Add 1 1/2 parts boiling water to 1 part fruit.  Let stand overnight.

Strain juice and add 3 pounds of sugar to 1 gallon of juice and 1/5 of a package of yeast.

Put in wine thingy (not its exact words) and there you go.

I was stuck on the first part.  Grind the chokecherries (which are mostly pits) with what?  I changed the recipe right off.

I prepared the chokecherries as I do for jam.  Boil in 1 1/2 parts of water until pits are showing and the color is a glorious pink/purple.  Then let set so that the sediment falls to the bottom.  The first batch I set overnight and it is a more vibrant color.  The other is lighter in flavor and color that set only a few hours.

I strained it and true to original recipe added slightly less than a pound of sugar to slightly less than a gallon of juice so that it would fit in the gallon jug I purchased for this event.  I poured it in.

The back of the yeast label said to only use about a 1/5 of a teaspoon for this whole mix so I minded and followed the yeast’s instructions rather than the original recipe.  I added that to the juice and sugar mix and placed the cool looking top on (the gallon jug and top contraption cost me seven dollars).  One pours a smidge of sanitizer into the curvy contraption.  I opted for rum.  I like to know what is possibly dripping into my wine.

I did two batches.  The first one was with the juice mix that sat overnight.  Richer in color and flavor I used brown sugar instead of white and red wine yeast.  The second one I boiled with a slice of ginger and used white sugar, adding a bit more sugar than the other batch, and used Champagne yeast.

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They then sat for six weeks.  The red wine batch bubbled incessantly and really gave a good show while the lighter one bubbled modestly.

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I am indebted to all the folks that work in homebrew stores.  They are your best sources for getting around the world of homebrew without making you feel like a complete idiot.  I could not fathom what I would brew the wine in or how on earth to bottle it or how to keep the air out or….they set me straight and sold me $70 worth of equipment to bottle with.  A dozen old fashioned looking bottles, a siphon, a pump, and a siphon valve.

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Place the siphon valve in the bottle.  This is attached to a tube that leads from the bottle to the gallon jug of fermenting wine.  Attach the end of the tube to the pump and hand pump the wine into the bottle.  I didn’t hold each piece firmly to the bottoms of the bottles so I got more air in than I would like but perhaps it will be more like Champagne…or something.  Once the bottle is full, pull out the siphon valve from the bottle and it leaves the exact space needed in the neck.  Close up the bottle (or insert cork) and let sit for a year.

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There are many books and recipes on how to make wine.  You can make wine out of anything from apples to dandelions.  For an investment of $80 I have seven and half bottles of wine.  I can reuse the bottles, the jugs, and the equipment so next time the cost is limited to the two bucks for yeast.

Now I do need to get a vineyard growing here….

Gin and Jelly (sounds like a rap song)

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Chokecherries by themselves are rather tart and cannot be eaten plain, however if you boil them with water then the juice can be turned into all sorts of delights!  Here are a few recipes for chokecherries to save the delightful taste of summer.

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Chokecherry Gin

Fill a half gallon canning jar with chokecherries

Add 3 cups of sugar (organic and raw preferably)

Fill jar with gin.

Let sit for at least two months.  Shake daily for the first week to dissolve sugar.

I don’t strain it until the liquid is below the fruit.  The color becomes a deep purple.

My friend, Sandy, adds more sugar half way through the waiting time and hers is quite spectacular.  I may do the same this year.  A nip of this concoction during the holidays or on a cold evening in front of the fire is very satisfying and very tasty.  Incredibly smooth and easy to drink, do keep in mind it is straight gin!  Make mixed drinks with it as well.  The gorgeous, festive color lends itself to fine holiday gifts.  Just pour into a decorative jar and arrange a ribbon about its neck.

Chokecherry Jelly

This, my dear friends, is the first time that my chokecherry jelly has set completely!  I have made a good deal of chokecherry syrup over the years unintentionally.  (Which is quite delicious blended with maple syrup and poured over waffles.)  My friend, Liza, brought me a magazine and in it was a recipe for chokecherry jelly which used two packets of liquid pectin rather than one as I had been doing.  And it worked.

This recipe is a variation of the one from the Fall 2014 Capper’s Farmer magazine.

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Place 1 quart of chokecherries in a saucepan and cover with about two inches of water.  Boil until the color is lovely and the seeds are all showing through the skin.  Strain liquid.

Put 3 cups of juice in pan.

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Add 6 1/2 cups of sugar (organic and raw preferably) and 1/2 teaspoon of vanilla sea salt (optional).

Bring to rolling boil stirring constantly.

Add two packets of liquid pectin and return to boil.  Boil for two minutes.

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Take off heat and add a teaspoon of vanilla extract.  Pour into half pint and/or 4 ounce jars.  Clean rim and replace lids.  Boil in large pan with water covering jars for 6 minutes.  12 minutes if you are in my neck of the woods.

Mmm…chokecherry jelly and peanut butter sandwiches, chokecherry jelly on biscuits, on toast, in oatmeal, in salad dressing, in barbeque sauce, in….

Our Farmstead in August (chokecherries, herbs, bees, and helpers)

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August is a beautiful time on a farm.  The daily rainfall (incredibly rare) has made this place look like an absolute Eden.  Allow me to give you a tour in photos with your morning coffee.

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This wouldn’t be Pumpkin Hollow Farm if there were no pumpkins.  Princess orange pumpkins and green pinstriped pumpkins are quickly filling the front yard.  Some have taken over the herbs.  Some have volunteered in the back pasture and in the mulch pile with the help of our neighborhood birds.

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We grow dozens of herbs for the medicines we make.  Our bees need not scurry far as they are immediately drawn to the medicine gardens.  Calendula (for mouthwash and skin conditions) mingles with Bidens Ticks (a strong anti-biotic when mixed with juniper berries).  Blue Lobelia masquerades as a prim and proper flower when its real superpower is in opening airways and has a place in my asthma medicine.  Funky red Monarda (also known as bee balm) is great in cold medicines and in my brain extracts.  Another picture of fluffy calendula brightens up the herb garden.

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The bees have been tremendously busy bringing in bloomers full of pollen from the sweet herbs surrounding them.  Should we get a bit of honey this year it will taste of summer and herbs.  Wild Herb Honey.

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Such bounty we have received from our dear gardens.  I was surprised to see that even though I stole their tomato cage and stopped watering them the shelling, snap, and snow peas all continued to grow.  I shall try to extend their season next year.  I did not expect them to survive through summer.  The tomatoes are growing with a new vibrancy now that the sun has started to show hot on their beds.  The green beans are irrepressible and the corn is taller than me.

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Another thing taller than me is the mullein.  We let it grow in the yard instead of mowing it down and it is a powerful tool in our artillery for everything from asthma, colds, nerve pain, and digestive disorders.  This herb is a gift!

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Another gift of August is chokecherries! So many people ask me what a chokecherry tastes like and I am ever surprised that a lot of folks have not tasted the sweet taste of chokecherry jelly.  They are not eaten plain.  A small bite will taste like a drying powder in the mouth.  They are boiled with water and the juice is used to make a myriad of recipes from chokecherry tapioca to chokecherry pudding (an American Indian tribe Crow recipe eaten with deer jerky) along with chokecherry jelly that my grandmother used to make and my new favorite, chokecherry gin, that my friend Sandy made!

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There is something magical about berry stained fingers.   A sense of place and of the earth, the warmth of the day, an adorable helper, and the promise of goods to eat during the winter create a peace only found on farms.

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Though we are as busy as our bee hive, we take time to see the flowers, smell the earth after rain, bask in the sunshine, and give thanks for nature’s gifts,

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and fully enjoy summer for winter’s winds will be knocking on our doors before we are ready!