Don’t worry, this post is nothing to do with Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure (though I’m secretly fond of the film), it is about Cornus mas, otherwise known as Cornelian Cherry. But funnily enough, it turns out that there is a cultivar of Cornus mas called ‘Bodacious’ that is grown for its tasty fruit. Party on dudes!
Cornus mas is a member of the Dogwood family and is a lovely round shrub/small tree that lights up the year early on (this photo was taken mid-February) with its mantel of lime-green frothy flowers. Each cluster of flowers is a little explosion of sunshine yellow and if you see the tree from a distance the whole thing just seems to glow.
Once the flowers fade, the tree looks pretty like any other Dogwood, but come round to September and suddenly it is shining again. This time with beautiful, ruby red fruits, which indeed look like oval cherries. In fact they taste like slightly tart cherries/plums as well.
The crop looks particularly good here in Cambridgeshire this year. The fruit is turning red and as it just starts to look a bit darker the fruits are pretty much ripe. Apparently the easy way to pick the ripe fruit is to shake the tree and collect what falls, but I found that running your hand over the clusters of ‘cherries’ has the same effect.
The fruits in a cluster ripen at different rates, so one tree can be cropped over a good period of time. It seems a shame that the fruits are mostly overlooked nowadays, except in Eastern Europe, where they are made into a range of sherberts, syrups, jellies, jams and Vodka! The fruit has a long history of use as a medicine/remedy: in China, in Greece and, from around 16th Century when it arrived on our shores, in Britain too. Its effectiveness may have been largely related to the fruit’s very high vitamin C content (twice that of oranges).
So I thought that I would collect some fruit and try to make a health-giving preserve!
In fact it is quite hard to nail down a recipe to use for jam. There is a very useful book by Lee Reich (Uncommon Fruits for Every Garden), which contains a good section on growing Cornus mas, but no recipes. Surprisingly, there aren’t as many sources on the web as you might expect, but happily there are enough. They describe a number of ways for dealing with the tenacious stones and also a variety of additions to the basic sugar and fruit combination. For example: white wine, lemon juice and even vanilla. They all sound fine, but as this was my first experiment with Cornelian cherries in the end I kept it to a simple jelly (thus avoiding all the ‘pit’falls of dealing with the stones). Cornelian cherries have a high pectin content, so getting the jelly to set shouldn’t be a problem.
I gathered about a 1 1/2 lbs (700g) of ‘cherries’ which I covered with water. I added a cooking apple (my Grenadiers are ripe and falling off the tree now) and cooked them together until soft. (I added the apple because a friend used this pairing in a jam he shared at work last year and it was very good.) Once the purée was cool, I strained the juice into a measuring jug. Then I used the usual jelly making ratio of 1 pint (0.57l) of liquid to 1 pound (450g) of sugar, scaled up to the amount that I’d actually decanted. This liquid was then boiled for about 20mins, i.e. until a test drop formed a detectable skin. The jelly was then pour into sterilized jars and allowed to cool/set.
The resulting jelly is a beautiful colour. It tastes very fruity and delicious. Hey Presto, breakfast is sorted for a while.