A couple of years ago I discovered that you could actually eat the fruits of the dogwood tree Cornus mas, aka. the Cornelian Cherry. So much fruit set that year that in August the bushes became shiny red beacons in the landscape.
Sampling a first cherry, shaken from the tree (best way to tell that they are ripe), was a revelation. The flavour just the right balance of sharp and sweet and fruity. It has been described as a mixture between cranberries and sour cherries, but I think that they are even more aromatic than that sounds.
After a lull in output last year, this year’s crop was good, so I was able to pick enough fruit to make a few things for the store cupboard again.
First on the list was jelly, which my son really loves, especially served with any kind of chocolate dessert. This is a jelly that won’t remain uneaten for long and I regard that as good news, since some jams (damson comes to mind) tend to sit on a shelf in the larder for … years, if I am honest. The trick, for me, is to make fairly small quantities of the preserves and confections, i.e. not try to cope with the entire glut.
In searching the internet for cornus mas jelly recipes, I found that I could do so much more with the ‘cornels’. In particular, there are some delicious sounding persian and eastern european concoctions, including jams, sauces and drinks (cordials and alcoholic mixes).
I loved the idea of making a snack food of the pickled fruit (in syrup) and I found a great recipe describing this on Fig and Quince‘s persia-focussed website. The addition of a small amount of cardamon to the mixture really made this recipe outstanding for me. Persian jam (moraba) is different from its western equivalent in that it tends to use whole fruits/large chunks (think bottled fruit). For Cornelian cherries, the pit-to-fruit ratio is high (similar to olives) and so the whole cherries are used in the ‘jam’. The cherries can be served up as an appetiser/ tapas on small saucers (again just like olives).
Motherearthnews nailed the taste of Cornelian cherry preserve as …
“Complex: a mix of carnations; the Croatian cherry liqueur Maraschino di Zadar; black cherries; and a touch of the fragrance of a night-blooming cereus.”
How romantic is that and how could I resist trying it?
Making the Cornelian cherry moraba will leave you with excess syrup. Happily, this can be turned into sharbat (a type of cordial) with just a little extra boiling (I followed the instructions on Fig and Quince again).
Sadly, I managed to drink my way through the sharbat within a week of making it, so now I will have to wait a whole year to be able to make more.
If you are interested in growing Cornus mas for the fruits, then you might like to know that although the typical fruit is an oblong, red drupe 2 cm long and 1.5 cm in diameter, there are a number of different cultivars available (see Agroforestry’s catalogue). The fruit can reach a size of as much as 4cm. Here are examples from two different bushes at Wimpole: On the left is the cultivar Cornus mas ‘Jolico’, on the right is a wild Cornus mas.
My own baby tree (3 years old, grown from a pip) is growing in a shady corner and had a couple of clusters of flowers on this year, but it is going to be a while before I can count on a harvest.
So, I am also considering buying a large fruited, grafted cultivar for a slightly sunnier position.
If anyone has any recommendations I’d be delighted to hear them?