Wednesday, June 30, 2021

A new summer brings cherries

It wasn't always like this.

That Nanking cherry bowl has been empty, until this midsummer. Because I couldn't find them. Until last spring, I hadn't even identified them. 

Rewind: I posted about The Case of the Mysterious Blossoms early in the pandemic, last March. When their leaves appeared I was at last able to identify them: Prunus tomentosa, commonly known as Nanking cherry.

I walked passed dozens of them at Fort Tilden, one of my favorite city escapes. The backroads are always quiet. The waves on the long, long beach can be heard through the dense shoreline thickets. Sometimes a cyclist (or tricyclist) passes. And, until this year, parking was allowed nearby from September through May (now it appears to have been forbidden, completely).

Regardless of identification, I had never seen these shrubs with fruit on them. Even last June, just one or two sad-looking fruits.

But about ten days ago I received a message on Instagram from Jing Yang, who has attended many of my forage walks (she has earned frequent walker miles - yes, those are a thing). "Marie, please help me ID this plant?" And there was a photo of the Nanking cherries. Loaded with, groaning with, festooned with, vivid and glistening fruit. I squealed. And went out twice within days to collect them. Once in blazing sun on my own, and once in pouring rain, with Jing.

They are gorgeous and unbelievably abundant. Why now? Was it the slow spring, this year? Are they susceptible to frost damage, since they bloom so early, in March, well before our last frost date?

The flavor of the fruit seemed to vary from shrub to shrub. Some were mildly sweet, while others were sweet with a very good tart, backbone. I grazed as I gathered.

They are an anomaly. Feral here, yet apparently cultivated by many gardeners. I have seen them nowhere else. Could they have been spread by birds from the local community garden, where there is now no Nanking cherry in sight? 

At home, the foodmill began to crank (it's Oxo, low-tech, and very, very helpful).

When I work with unfamiliar foods that I may later write about or include in a book I have to measure. One cup of Nanking cherries weights how much? And yields how much pulp? So cooking means hopping from one side of the kitchen counter to the other as I weigh and notate. I froze a lot of raw pulp to deploy later, in new recipes.

They made a very glossy, gorgeous jam.

And a very frothy cocktail (I used the skimmings of the jam, mixed it with lemon juice and gin, and topped it with lots of tonic, and a sprig of hyssop).

I wonder what they will do, next year?


Forage, Harvest, Feast - A Wild-Inspired Cuisine


  1. They look rather like currants! I Googled local availability and, yes, some nurseries here have them.But can't see them doing well in the tropics.

  2. Leslie in OregonJune 30, 2021 at 5:42 PM

    These Nanking cherries look so beautiful and delectable! How wonderful that Jing Yang found and asked you about them and that you have made two forays to collect them. Given your description of their taste, I am guessing that I would relish the jam you've made with them even more than my longtime favorite, huckleberry jam. Enjoy the rewards of your networking, dilligent work and artistry!

  3. How exciting! You have had the most colorful and rewarding foraging adventure. I've never heard of these before but I will look them up, knowing that if they grow feral there, they probably wouldn't like it here!

  4. I shall peruse the shrubs in the cemetery.....


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