Since I have been writing this column for at least 12 years, I have already covered some of these topics, but as the seasons and years go round, so do some of my experiences with minor modifications. I have covered chokecherry picking and chokecherry jelly making before, but this is this year’s pick and this year’s ruby jewel of a toast accompaniment.
Birds conveniently deposited the remains of their chokecherry feast along a barbwire fence near a country road not far from our place. These bush/trees have grown alongside this fence for years, and if conditions warrant, produce a crop of berries that permits the birds to eat plenty and me to harvest enough to make a batch or two of my favorite jelly.
Since I last wrote an essay on this topic, I have discovered other sources for picking chokecherries. However, since this plant is practically in my yard and I can watch it through the seasons, it is my favorite go-to site.
Because I see this plant on an almost daily basis, I monitor it from bloom to harvest. Ol’ Jack Frost literally nipped last year’s harvest in the bud, so you can imagine how happy I was to see a late bloom this spring. Since then, I have worried that the ongoing drought and triple digit temperatures would dash any hopes that late bloom fostered, but lately chokecherries dance through my dreams.
Watching the little clusters of green berries form and fill fed those crazy dreams. In the last week or so, I watched the little fruits join my tomatoes in Mother Nature’s magic as they turn from green, to light red, to deep red.
Once that happens, I can’t miss my minute of glory by much because the birds will beat me to the picking. To prevent losing all my fruit to my feathered friends, I have been looking twice a day to see how the berries are maturing. Last night I saw enough crimson clusters to make it worth rising extra early to begin my own pick.
This morning, I rose before dawn, watered, made breakfast, fed the dog, and searched for a DEET product. Yep, part of chokecherry pickin’ is the bug factor, and I have learned the hard way, it is best to go prepared for the worst. Chiggers have a way of causing me all kinds of misery so I made sure I coated underwear lines, sock lines, sleeve lines, and my glasses (accidentally) with plenty of product designed to thwart those invisible torture monsters.
Once I had my body protected from bugs, I got a bucket and shears to snip little clusters, and headed off in the coolest air of the day. Part of picking chokecherries is the ambience. The prairie sky is a blend of pink, orange, and blue pastels all blended by a master artist. The birds like the way morning feels too so they add a chorus or ten to brighten my mood. Not wanting to be left out, grasshoppers and other string instrument players get into the jam session and add their own rhythms.
It all goes together to be one of those perfect moments that I remember when life drains me. I savored each little piece of the morning scene individually and together as I searched out those perfect berries on reachable branches. I was harvesting much more than yet unmade jelly.
Once my jelly is made, I’ll store jars of it my pantry to open this winter when I have forgotten how beautiful a summer morning can be. When I open that jar, garnet sweetness will transport me back to this moment and the absolute contentment I enjoyed as I faced down chiggers to pick nature’s jewels off the chokecherry tree/bush on the road to my house.