Foraging Wild Fruit: Choke Cherry

Photo of Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana)

Another New England wild cherry is Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana), which is not to be confused with Chokeberry. Choke Cherry fruit clusters (called racemes) closely resemble those of Black Cherry, but these relatives have several noticeable differences.

Photo of Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) leaf

For one thing, Choke Cherry grows as a shrub or short tree, whereas Black Cherry can grow quite tall. The leaves of Choke Cherry are also rounder, more finely toothed, and hairless on the undersides.  Choke Cherry fruit has an astringent quality (i.e., it causes a drying sensation in the mouth), but its flavor can be pleasingly sweet-tart-tasty when fully ripe.  Last week, taking the advice of Arthur Haines (see video below), I crushed up some Choke Cherries (pits and all*) and dehydrated the resulting mash.  The crunchy finished leather has a concentrated flavor with little trace of astringency.

Photo of Choke Cherry (Prunus virginiana) handful

*Note: Choke Cherry pits contain the carbohydrate prunasin that is broken down in the body into various compounds, including hydrocyanic acid, which is harmful to humans in sufficient quantity. Luckily, prunasin is rendered largely inert by drying or cooking. Arthur explains this near the end of his Choke Cherry video which I've embedded below.

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