Chokecherries hang like grape clusters in North Dakota.

Chokecherries are a common wild berry in North Dakota, in fact they are the official State Fruit. For generations chokecherries have been picked for jams and syrups, as well as for medicinal purposes by the Native American tribes.

Chokecherries.  Love ’em or hate ’em.  They’re Historic!  

Chokecherries!  Many people love them.  But some people hate them!  Their astringent taste is their trademark!   And their history is long!  Archeological findings have revealed their use by ancient cultures in western North Dakota and eastern Montana, among other places.  Chokecherries were mentioned in the writings of Lewis and Clark as they passed through the state.   Native Americans utilized chokecherries both for medicine and food, ranging from dried versions to pulverized, and incorporated into puddings and dried meats.   The bushes are a popular planting in shelterbelts, as well as landscaping and provide important food and cover for wild life.   

Chokecherry blossoms herald spring in North Dakota!

Trees laden with such blossoms are destined to become luscious dark red (almost black) berries, perfect for jelly and syrup!

Official North Dakota State Fruit

Plentiful in North Dakota, in fact, they are the official State Fruit.   How did that come to be?  That’s one unique story!  Co-authors of a Senate bill introduced in the North Dakota legislature in 2007 were elementary school students from Williston!   After researching assorted native fruits, in combination with learning about how the state government functions, they found that the history and use of chokecherries in the state of North Dakota is extensive!  There is even a street named after this native berry!

Chokecherry Street! It Does Exist in North Dakota!

Chokecherry Street! It does exist in North Dakota! Williston! (photo courtesy Facebook)

North Dakota Chokecherry Festival, Each August in Williston.

North Dakota Chokecherry Festival, every August in Williston. (photo courtesy Facebook)

Chokecherry Festival

 Don’t miss the annual Chokecherry Festival in Williston, each August.  There you’ll find chokecherry food items you didn’t know existed, along with family fun events.  Look for vendors which sell chokecherry food items, too.  

Chokecherry Among Assorted Berry Jellies from Mares Creations, Mott, North Dakota

Chokecherry! Assorted berry jellies from Mares Creations, Mott, North Dakota.  Visit their Facebook page, Mares Creations, for more information. (photo courtesy Facebook)

Wild Chokecherry Syrup! Made in North Dakota! Berry Dakota, Jamestown.

Wild Chokecherry Syrup! Made in North Dakota! Berry Dakota, Jamestown. Visit their website: (photo courtesy Facebook)









And then there’s that Chokecherry Jelly!   

Childhood memories of most rural North Dakotans include August chokecherry time.   For many, gathering with mom, siblings, aunts, and cousins to harvest the tart berries while ‘the men’ were harvesting wheat was a yearly tradition.   Buckets full of luscious deep red, nearly black, berries filled many back porches and kitchens as pots of boiling water were readied!    For some great regional recipes, check out this FREE! cookbook from the North Dakota Forest Service, published through NDSU: The Windbreak Cookbook Featuring Fruits of Prairie Forests. Download it free here:

The Windbreak Cookbook published by NDSU, NDFS, and USDA

The Windbreak Cookbook published by NDSU, NDFS, and USDA. Download here:

And Chokecherry Syrup!

Chokecherry Syrup was as common as maple syrup on some kitchen tables in North Dakota in years past.  Over pancakes, it’s great!  And as ice cream topping, it’s dazzling!   One Norwegian tradition used chokecherry syrup with white bread.   Place a slice of white bread on a plate, pour cream over it, and then top with chokecherry syrup!  Consult the NDSU Extension Service for more information about the horticulture and preparation of this ‘ol tyme’ fruit.  Don’t forget to visit with your County Extension Agent for more recipes and advice.   Try these two recipes from NDSU Publications: 

Chokecherry Jelly With Liquid Pectin

Extract the juice using enough water to cover the washed fruit and cook about 15 minutes or until the fruit is soft. Do not crush or grind the seeds, which contain a cyanide-forming compound that can be toxic.

3 cups chokecherry juice
6½ cups sugar
2 pouches liquid pectin
¼ teaspoon almond extract (optional)

Pour the juice into a large, heavy kettle. Add sugar and stir to mix. Place over high heat. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Stir in pectin. Bring to a full, rolling boil and boil hard for one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Stir and skim for five minutes. Add almond extract.

Follow general directions. Pour into hot, sterilized jars and seal with two-piece, self-sealing lids. Process according to the directions in Table 1.

Chokecherry Jelly With Powdered Pectin

Extract juice.

3½ cups chokecherry juice
4 cups sugar
1 (1¾-ounce) package powdered pectin

Stir pectin into the juice. Bring this mixture to a rolling boil (one that does not stop when stirred) over high heat, stirring constantly. Quickly add sugar to the juice mixture. Bring to a full, rolling boil and boil one minute, stirring constantly. Remove from the heat. Skim off any foam. Pour into hot, sterilized half-pint jars; leave ¼ inch of head space. Cover with two-piece lids and process in a boiling water-bath canner according to Table 1.

Follow these guidelines when canning by the water bath method.

Use this information with the Chokecherry Recipes provided through the NDSU Extension Service Publications.


Making jams and jellies successfully depends on having the right proportion of the main ingredients: fruit, acid, sugar and pectin, the gelling agent. Measuring carefully will help ensure success. Good jelly depends upon the acid and pectin content of fruit plus the addition of sugar. The acid content can be detected by taste — it compares with the tartness of a good, tart apple. One to 2 teaspoons of lemon juice per cup of fruit juice may be added if extra tartness is needed. Or use one-quarter to one-half apple juice for the total juice in the jelly recipe.

Testing for Pectin

Pectin in fruit decreases as the fruit ripens. Select a mixture of about three-fourths ripe and one-fourth underripe fruit when making jelly without added pectin.

To test for pectin, place 1 tablespoon of cooked, cooled fruit juice in a dish and add 1 tablespoon of grain alcohol or denatured alcohol. Stir slightly to mix. Juice rich in pectin will form a solid, jellylike mass. Juices low in pectin will form small particles of jellylike materials. NOTE: Dispose of this mixture without tasting. Use 1 cup of sugar for each cup of juice if the test indicates the juice is rich in pectin.

If the mass is slightly broken, use ¾ cup of sugar to 1 cup of juice. If only a small amount of pectin is present, use ½ cup of sugar to 1 cup of juice. This is only a guide. Commercial pectin or fruit juice rich in pectin may be added if the mass does not hold together. Read and follow carefully the directions on commercial pectin products. The order in which the ingredients are combined depends on the form of pectin. Powdered pectin is mixed with unheated fruit juice. Liquid pectin is added to a boiling juice and sugar mixture.

Pulp can be reheated. Add water just to cover, reheat, strain and test for pectin. This juice can be used with the first juice if you obtain good pectin test results or used alone with added commercial pectin.

Follow These Tips for Safety and Quality

  •  Paraffin or wax seals are no longer recommended for any sweet spread.
  •  Process all sweet spreads that will be stored at room temperature in a water-bath canner.
  •  Use only two-piece, self-sealing lids, which have a flat metal disc and sealing compound and a separate metal screw band. The lids can be used only one time, but the screw band can be reused. After the canned goods have sealed, remove the screw bands to prevent them from rusting on the jars.
  •  Use sterile jars and a five-minute process time whenever possible. If unsterile jars are used, the process time is 10 minutes. The additional processing time may cause weak gels in some products.
  •  Sweet spreads that develop mold growth should not be used.
  •  Do not overcook. Overcooking may break down pectin and prevent proper gelling.
  •  Make one batch at a time using up to 4 cups of juice. Increasing the quantities often results in soft gels.
  •  Use the jar size specified in the recipe. Use of larger jars may result in excessively soft products.

General Directions

Use only 3 or 4 cups of juice per batch. The amount of sugar varies — 1 cup of juice to 1 cup of sugar is satisfactory but using ¾ cup of sugar to 1 cup of juice may give better quality jelly and a more natural flavor. The amount of sugar is determined by the amount of pectin present. Juice for jelly making can be stored for about one week in the refrigerator if you aren’t able to use it right away. Juice can be frozen several months in containers; leave 1½ inch of head space. Thaw slowly.

Satisfactory jam can be made from many of the fruits if you have enough pulp. One pound of fruit usually yields at least 1 cup of clear juice. See publication FN-172, “Jellies, Jams and Spreads” for more information about extracting juice.

  1. Wash and remove hulls and stems. Cut firm, larger fruits into small pieces. Crush soft fruits or berries.
  2. Add enough water to cover the fruit. Put the fruit and water in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for the amount of time listed or until the fruit is soft.
  3. Mash the fruit through a sieve.
  4. Measure the pulp. Add sugar in a proportion of 1½ pounds of sugar to 2 pounds of pulp. Continue to cook slowly until thick.
  5. To strain, place three layers of damp cheesecloth or a jelly bag in a large bowl. Pour prepared fruit into the cheesecloth. Tie the cheesecloth closed; hang it and let it drip into a bowl until the dripping stops. Press gently. Note: The juice can be frozen or canned at this point for later use.
  6. Add ingredients as directed and cook.
  7. If you plan to store the jelly or jam at room temperature, process it in a water-bath canner to help prevent mold growth.
  •  Pour the jelly, jam or syrup into hot, sterilized jars, leaving ¼ inch of head space.
  •  Remove bubbles with a bubble freer or spatula; clean the rims and jar threads carefully before applying lid and ring.
  •  Use two-piece lids. Do not overtighten the lids, which may lead to buckling and a poor seal. Consult the manufacturer’s directions; most recommend “finger tight.”
  •  Place the jars in a canner filled with simmering water. The water should be 1 to 2 inches over the top of the jars.
  •  Begin timing when the water is boiling gently. At the end of the recommended processing time, remove the jars carefully with a jar lifter and place on a rack or protected surface away from drafts.
  •  Do not disturb the jars for at least 12 hours. Sealed lids will be concave. You may hear them “pop.”
  •  For best quality, use home-preserved jellies within one year.

Note: Using paraffin is not recommended as a way to seal jellies and jams. Turning jars upside down to seal also is not recommended. The U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends processing jams, jellies and syrups in a boiling water-bath canner to inactivate molds that may be present. Unsterilized jars may be used if the jelly or jam is processed for 10 minutes. 


Your Recipes?  Your Traditions?  We Want to Hear From You!

We’re curious.   What are your memories surrounding Chokecherries?   What recipes, chokecherry or not, will you share?  Let us know!   We’d love to hear from you!    Message us on Facebook, or email Mary at:    

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