Earlier this year at the Northwest Flower & Garden Show, I was hanging out with Jessi Bloom of NW Bloom (and author of Free-Range Chicken Gardens) in her exhibit booth. She had brought a selection of edible landscaping plants — reliable, hardworking shrubs, vines, trees and the like that would behave in the landscape and provide some food. The star of the show was Aronia melanocarpa, sometimes known as black chokeberry.
It’s a medium-sized shrub that puts out white blooms in spring and small dark fruit in fall. Nice enough plant, I thought.
Then she brought me over to the booth next to hers, where somebody had stashed away a bottle of aronia juice, and I got a taste. Wow! Imagine something between cranberries and wild, tart blueberries, and you’re close enough. It was rich, tart, and delicious.
And perfect for cocktails. I could see aronia becoming the American cassis. Harvest them when they’re ripe and juicy, put them in a jar with some high-proof vodka or grappa or grape eau-de-vie, and crush them gently. Let them sit for–oh, I don’t know–a few weeks, maybe? Then strain, and add simple syrup (equal parts sugar and water, heated until the sugar melts then allowed to cool) to taste, and let it sit another week or so.
Another approach, and this works with any fruit, really: Heat in a saucepan with just enough water to help it simmer, crush fruit gently as it cooks, and add sugar to taste. Let the sugar melt and the juice come out of the fruit. Strain, cool, and add vodka/eau-de-vie to taste. (Or not. You could just use it as a fruit syrup, but if you do that, refrigerate & use it quickly or store it in the freezer to preserve it.)
Anyway, the point of all of this is that according to this piece in the New York Times, aronias are about a bazillion times healthier than blueberries. So I’m thinking that a splash of aronia liqueur in sparkling wine, dry white wine, or club soda (with gin or vodka, over ice) is the way to go this summer.
Thanks, Jessi. I’m on it.
Oh, and last time I checked, Jessi was selling aronia, so if you’re in the Seattle area, check with her. Otherwise, Raintree usually has it but may be out for the season. I plan to check back come fall.