Choke Cherry Jelly

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chokecherry jelly recipe

August is chokecherry season around here! We like chokecherry jelly, and since the fruit is free, I try to make it every year. Some years if I am busy, the birds get the berries first, crazy things!

I enjoy canning. It is a lot of work, especially for some things, but I enjoy it anyways. Looking at those rows of jars…hearing the ‘pop!’, it makes me happy. And it is beautiful. Always make beautiful things. Life is too short to live ugly.

I moved to a ranch house along the creek bottoms about two years ago, and this place is loaded with choke cherries. They grow in my yard and along the bridge over the creek. I had never tasted or used them before we moved here, but I quickly decided that I will not let any free food go unused…least of all fruit! So. I perused Pinterest, recipe books and Google for a chokecherry jelly recipe. And I found some. Problem was, they all are different, and some don’t work right. Finally I found two and kinda combined them to come up with my own that is pretty much perfect. At least in my opinion. :)

The method is pretty easy, actually. At least the way I do it.

First, have your kids pick the cherries. :)

Some are bit red yet… normally try to pick them a little blacker. But around here it’s a race with the birds to pick them first! 😉

Then you wash them. I stir them around so the leaves and junk can come to the top. Then I scoop the trash out with my spoon.

Drain. You will notice there are some green berries in my bowl, and the tiny stems are all still on. Its OK. They really don’t matter. The pioneers used a certain portion of green berries in their jam instead of pectin. I don’t recommend that route. I tried it and was sadly disappointed.
Put in a large kettle and fill with water till the cherries are just covered.

Simmer about 30-45 minutes, or until the juice is dark red. I confess I have never timed this. I’m bad about cooking by feel…

Drain the juice in a large bowl,

Wow! The kids an I picked about 4 gallons, and got a gallon of juice! I see lots of jelly in my future… If you don’t have time to make it into jelly right now – you can store the juice in the fridge a few days.

You should have your jars and lids ready before you start the jelly process…

Then you pour 3 1/2 cups juice into a large kettle. It will boil up considerably, so make sure the kettle is big enough.  One commentor informed me that this was because I should have put a teaspoon of butter in my juice, to keep it from boiling over. So I do this now.

Add the lemon juice and pectin. Stir. Bring to a boil.

When the juice is boiling, add the sugar. Bring to a rolling boil (boiling so hard you can’t stir it down) and continue to stir as it boils for 2 minutes. (This is where it will boil up and up and up. I boiled over two kettles of jelly on my stove. Please don’t be that stupid. Burnt on jelly is HARD to clean off. )
When the 2 minutes are up, you can skim the foam off if you like. It doesn’t have to be skimmed off, but looks prettier/clearer if you do.

Then you ladle it into jars, leaving 1/2 inch head space.

when the jars are full, wipe the rims with a clean cloth. (They might not seal if they have jelly splatters.)

Place a lid on each one…

…and a ring. Tighten to fingertip tightness. In other words, just tighten them with your fingertips, don’t use all the force in your being! :)

Place them in a hot water bath. The boiling water should be about an inch over the jars.

The water in this canner is not deep enough! It should be over the top of all the jars.

Bring the water in the canner to a boil and let it boil for 5 minutes. If you live above 3,000 ft sea level, you need to check your county extension to see what the recommended processing time is for your area. I live at 6,000 ft, and I need to process them for 10 minutes.

Then you remove the jars to cool. If the jelly isn’t set, I recommend not disturbing the jars for at least 24 hours. The pectin takes time to work.

Last but not least, stand back and admire your hard work!

And go make some room on your shelves for some yummy jelly!

Note:: This picture is of a double recipe. One recipe yields about 5 pints.
4.9 from 9 reviews
Choke Cherry Jelly
  • 3.5 cups chokecherry juice
  • ½ cup fresh lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon butter or margarine
  • 1 pkg dry pectin (1.75 oz)
  • 4½ cups of sugar
  1. Pour juices in kettle.
  2. Add pectin, stir.
  3. Bring to a boil, add sugar.
  4. Boil and stir for 2 minutes.
  5. Remove from heat, skim.
  6. Ladle into jars.
  7. Process in hot water bath for 5 minutes.
  8. Cool undisturbed for 24 hours.


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40 thoughts on “Choke Cherry Jelly

  1. Anonymous

    I just made peach marmalade last week again. When I do cooked jams & jellies I do them ‘open kettle’ (quickly ladling the hot liquid into jars, putting the lids on, and letting them stand up-side-down overnight). I’ve never had trouble with them not sealing or unsealing later and it saves the processing. Would our lower altitude make a difference? -anne beiler
    p.s. you do lovely photos. you should have a card business =)

    1. Kay

      Anne, I do think the altitude makes a difference. I know mom always did that method too, and really, 5 minutes is what is on the recipe in the box, so yeah, basically getting it hot. But when I have tried that, they mostly open. So out here you have to process them. :)

  2. Jennifer

    Yum!!! I wish we had had wild fruits! Not much in our desert wasteland to use. Where my mom lives in Tx, they have wild plums, and Om-Gee! They make the best jelly!!

  3. Cheyenne

    Ah, my dear, I found your blog through pinterest and have been steadily perusing it for the past few days. You are such a talented photographer and gifted writer — your blog just feels ‘homey’. I don’t know how to explain, but I do like to visit!

    I live in Alberta, Canada and love all things chokecherry! Such happy memories of eating pancakes as a kid slathered in chokecherry syrup.

    Looking forward to reading more and hoping you are having a peaceful weekend! We have hoards of snow already and are heading into a small town today for my girlfriend’s wedding. Should be fun. :)

  4. Samantha

    Hi!!! I;m so excited to try this we have a whole row of choke cherry trees! I am wondering how many cups of whole cherries do i need to start!!??
    Thanks for sharing!!

  5. Patty

    I make them into syrup and I grind the berries after cooking them in a Foley food mill. For your jelly you just boil them, no grinding ? Right. Just boiling for juice.

  6. Lourdes Mendoza

    You recipe was very inspiring, unfortunately I did something wrong and my result looks brown. I simmered the chokecherries and noticed the red pale color but after a while just turn brown. What went wrong?

    1. Kay Schrock Post author

      Hmm. I’m not sure… Did you go ahead and use it to make jelly? Sometimes mine looks kind of cloudy, but once I add the pectin, it becomes a beautiful clear red.

  7. Jody

    Kay, I made your chokecherry jelly recipe today and it turned out wonderfully! I’ve made it quite a few times, but never had a recipe that added lemon juice. I think it makes ALL the difference! From one ranchwife to another, I give you my hearty thanks!

  8. Joyce

    I live in the mountains in Montana where I get my choke cherry. Have to get there before the bears. Lol . It makes the best jelly. I do grind my berry’s a little after cooking you get more of the flavor out of the berry’s. Make sure tho not to bust the seeds while grinding. HAPPY. CANNING

    1. Kay Schrock Post author

      Yes, the pits (and leaves, branches, etc) are toxic to humans and most animals. That is why I do not crush the pits. I simply strain. Cooking does not release the toxicity. Only the fruit’s flesh is edible. :) Good question!

  9. Leah H

    I made your recipe 2-3 hours ago and noticed that it hasn’t firmed up yet. Does it take it a while for it to set? The extra mixture in the bottom of my pot did firm up, so I’m surprised it hasn’t set yet. Any thoughts?

    1. Kay Schrock Post author

      Sorry, I was gone most of the weekend! I have had some batches not set up… I use them for syrup over pancakes. 😀 But As to why… no, sometimes the natural pectin in the fruit may be different, or something. I’m not sure. I try to let them set 24 hours undisturbed, and that helps. How are yours by now?

  10. Jessica

    I’m going to try making this sugar free for a loved one with diabetes today! I’ll use the sure jell pectin and the sweetener Swerve. I’ll let you know how it turns out!

      1. Wendie

        Do you prepare your pectin as directed in step 2 on the box or just add it in powder form like it is? Thank you Kay, looking very much forward to trying out this recipe! Just picked the cherries last night.

          1. Wendie

            Hi Kay, I apologize I had misread your directions, read them over again right after messaging you and tried the recipe…..turned out beautifully! Making more today as a matter of fact! Thank you again.

            Wendie recently posted…Summer is nearly over…My Profile

  11. Vernon Jenewein

    Just made some chokecherry jelly from juice a friend sent me from Nebraska (I live in SW Michigan, a Winemaker at local winery). the juice came a bit thick as there was much pulp, but I followed the recipe in the package of Sure-Jell and in the “sour cherry” part it said 3 1/2 Cup of jice and 4 cups sugar… but I had just a bit over that. I used Balaton Cherry juice to make it to 4 cups and used 5 cups of sugar. Kind of followed the mint jelly ratio. However, I did not use any lemon juice and I think it resulted is a softer set.
    When first few hours after cooling it looked very soft and not gelled. Next morning, Sunday the 28th it is looking more set. I read sometimes it takes 24-48 hours for the pectin to set the jelly. If I have to put it back in the pan I’m using the no-sugar pectin and about 1/2 to 3/4 tsp of citric acid (1 tsp = 4 Tbs Lemon Juice), as I think the juice did not have enough acid and I have made it before with lemon juice or Citric Acid added, but not this time.

    You had said to boil 2 minutes after adding sugar and comes to a rolling boil. I boiled for about 1 min and 15 seconds, give or take a few seconds. Then I read online that over boiling or overcooking (temp) will damage the pectin. Sure – Jell says 1 minute of boil time, so I am curious how well the initial set is on your chokecherry jelly at 2 minutes boil time. I saved and printed the recipe. Thanks! – Vernon

    1. Kay Schrock Post author

      Very interesting! Normally I have a good set – maybe it works because I use some slightly under-ripe berries, so there is more natural pectin? Occasionally i have a batch that doesn’t set well, but normally it sets ok. I will try boiling it less next time, and see if it changes. I do know that the sugar to pectin ratio is pretty important, so I try not to fudge that at all.

      1. Vernon Jenewein

        Kay, It just took a little time. The partial jar I had in the refrigerator I put out on the table. By Sunday evening it was nice and thick. The jars on the floor did not look “soft/runny” anymore. I put the partial jar in the refrigerator and had toast and chokecherry jelly for breakfast Monday morning. When I dipped out the jelly, the tack left from the spoon stayed in the jelly and did not ‘slosh’ away. I have read that it may take 24 – 48 hours to actually set up, and it did. I wanted to respond back for any readers that may have had similar issues.

        Because the juice I got was so thick with pulp, there was no way to separate it, so it was more a jam/jelly than a pure jelly. Lot’s of chokecherry Jelly flavor! This juice came from around the Sandhills of Nebraska. When I lived in Crawford, NE there are an abundance of chokecherries along the white river and Deadman Creek area. They should ALL be starting to end their ripening now, if not already gone by the end of August.

        I had used just a bit of Balaton Cherry (what we make our cherry wine out of) and the first batch was very high in Malic Acid, which may have been one of the reasons of such an initial soft set. I usually add lemon juice or citric acid as chokecherries are pretty anemic in acid since their is little pulp and much water used in extraction. Contrary, our Balaton Cherries we use for wine are all crushed, soaked for 24 hours to help extract color and then pressed. 100% juice from some 80 tons of fruit. That’s 160,000 lbs of cherries. BTW the primary acid of cherries is Malic, not Citric. Blueberries are Citric, and grapes are primarily Tartaric Acid for their primary acids. 3 important things for good jelly set. Enough pectin, enough sugar and enough acid. If the acid is lacking, or any of the other are out of balance too much it will either be very hard jelly or very soft jelly.

  12. Cathy Robertson

    Came across your chokecherry recipe and plan to try today. I froze 5-6 ice cream buckets this summer if washed berries. In the past I have always mahed up the berries to get more mileage out of them ( not the pits) yes, the jellies are clody but still tasty. I haven’t tried lemon in it so will give it a try. We live in NE SD and have lots of chokecherries. I also picked and froze Nanking cherries to try. Have you used them?

      1. Cathy Robertson

        3 batches done here, short juice for a 4th batch. Will pick up a little grape or apple juice to do that batch tomorrow. Have you used either in combination w chokecherry? Really good.

  13. Rosann Stahl

    This reminds me of my childhood. 😊 We had so many chokecherry trees around our property. We’d pick them to eat while playing in the woods and our mom would make jelly with them too.

  14. Judy Hansen

    Thank you! For some reason, the commercial pectin instructions no longer mention chokecherry. It’s one of my favourite childhood memories and tastes. I like the idea of lemon juice.

    To answer a previous question about Nanking Cherries, I made jelly out of them a couple of years ago. The jelly was runny and very mild in flavour (insipid). I won’t be making jelly out of Nanking Cherries again.

    1. Kay Schrock Post author

      Thank you for the review on Nanking cherries! And I hope this works for you! I never knew what chokecherries were, until I moved to Wyoming. :) I like them but I fight the birds every year!


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