[NAFEX] Cornelian cherries recipes

LEE REICH lreich at hvc.rr.com
Sun Aug 8 19:37:25 EDT 2004

This is from the "Harvest and Use" section of the chapter on cornelian cherries in my book UNCOMMON FRUITS FOR
EVERY GARDEN (Timber Press, 2004).

Lee Reich

Cornelian cherries ripen from summer through fall, the time varying from clone to clone. Average yield of fruit
from a single tree is between thirty and seventy pounds, although there are trees that bear more than two
hundred pounds of fruit.
 Fruits from a single tree ripen over an extended period. The simplest way to harvest in quantity is to give
the branches a gentle shake periodically once the fruit has colored, then collect fallen fruit from the ground.
Ripe fruits left to hang on the tree become more concentrated in flavor and sweetness. Some people prefer to
allow harvested fruit to sit at room temperature for a day or more, in which case the flavor becomes sweet, but
more sedate.
 When the fruit was popular in Britain, it was rarely eaten out of hand, probably because better-tasting clones
were unknown there. The fruits were held in high esteem for the delicious tarts they made, and shops commonly
sold rob de cornis, a thickened, sweet syrup of cornelian cherry fruits. The juice also added pizazz to cider
and perry.
 In regions of Europe where cornelian cherry is still a popular comestible, the fruit finds uses other than for
just fresh eating. Since ancient times, the unripe fruits have been pickled as a substitute for olives.

Cornel-berries, which we use instead of olives . . . should be picked while they are still hard and not very
ripe; they must not, however be too unripe. They should then be dried for a day in the shade; then vinegar and
must boiled down to half or one-third of its original volume should be mixed and poured in, but it will be
necessary to add some salt, so that no worms or other form of animal life can be engendered in them, but the
better method of preservation is when two parts of must boiled down to half its original volume are mixed with
one part of vinegar.
 (Columella, On Agriculture, first century A.D.)

Cornelian cherry is a favored ingredient of Turkish serbert, a fruit drink sold in stores and from portable
containers carried like knapsacks on the backs of street vendors. (Another common English name for cornelian
cherry is "sorbet," though cornelian cherry is not the only fruit used for the Turkish serbert.) In Ukraine,
cornelian cherries are juiced, then bottled commercially into soft drinks. There, the fruits are also made into
conserves, fermented into wine, distilled into a liqueur, and dried.
 The generic epithet, Cornus, is derived from the Latin word for "horn," alluding to the hardness of the wood,
a quality I confirm from my experience in grafting this plant. Pliny wrote that cornelian cherry wood was used
for making "spokes of wheels, or else for making wedges for splitting wood, and pins or bolts, which have all
the hardness of those of iron." The wood’s hardness also lent it a more menacing use in the making of spears.
>From the many gory passages relating this use by ancient writers, the following lines from Virgil’s Aeneid
serve as example:

Through the yielding air
The Italian cornel wings, and piercing through
The gullet ’neath his deep chest passed right on;
The cavern of the dismal wound gives up
Its foaming tide . . .

 Returning to beneficent uses of cornelian cherry, we find many parts of the cornelian cherry plant applied in
folk medicine. The fruit is allegedly beneficial in the treatment of gout, anemia, skin diseases, painful
joints, and disrupted metabolism. Fruit, leaves, or bark have been employed for gastrointestinal disorders and
tuberculosis. The Russians report that the fruit contains components that leach radioactivity from the body.
 But I digress---our primary interest here is with the gustatory pleasure afforded by the fruits, especially
the fresh fruits of a superior clone plucked straight from the tree. The fruit is as worth cultivating today as
it was three centuries ago when John Parkinson wrote of the cornelian cherry (in Paradisi in Sole) that "by
reason of the pleasantnesse in them when they are ripe, they are much desired . . . also preferued and eaten,
both for rarity and delight."

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