When the weather breaks in Chicago and wisps of green start appearing in vacant lots, sidewalk cracks, and tree branches, I am reminded of the land where I grew up, only an hour away from the bustling metropolis of Chicago. After all, it was not long ago that the land the city now occupies looked much like the rural prairie where I was raised.
One of the things I thought about while walking Porkchop this morning was that one has a tendency to look at things differently as one gets to know them better. In this case, I look at the environment in my neighborhood differently the more I get to know it. The fact that I have identified more and more edible plants now has me paying more attention to what is growing all around me.
Yesterday, on my quest to find and identify a juneberry bush, I came across some fruit-bearing bushes near my house.
I suspected they were juneberries, but I was wrong. I immediately sent the picture to some well-known foragers on the Internet for help in identifying these beautifully plum berries. One forager told me they were definitely not juneberries but didn’t offer an ID. But a local forager replied with a short and to-the-point response:
“They are Aronia melanocarpa–black chokeberry. Juneberries are done in June.”
My disappointment quickly changed to excitement and I sent Chelsea on a gathering mission to experiment with this newfound ultra-local produce.
Internet research prepared me for an astringent fruit with some sweetness. Tasting it raw proved that it is indeed astringent, but it also has a complex fruitiness similar to a blackberry. I could see it being used to great effect in making prairie wine and jam. I knew that a syrup would be a quick way of transforming this newfound fruit from raw and inedible to sweet and palatable with the addition of only water and sugar.
I had about a pint of berries. I put them in a stainless sauce pot and added just enough water to cover.
A slow simmer or boil rendered the berries super soft. At this point, I sieved the berries through a fine strainer with a muddler, leaving the seeds and most of the skins behind.
The resulting liquid is called the “juice.” An equal amount of sugar to juice is added, and the mixture is returned to the pan to cook gently until the sugar is fully dissolved and the mixture is slightly reduced.
That’s it! When it’s cool, you have a sweet, earthy, and exotic fruit syrup from locally foraged berries that are typically nothing more than landscape decoration.