Find out how to turn American wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) into a delicious chilled summer soup, inspired by the eastern European/Hungarian dish called meggyleves.
Yes, wild black cherries are edible – and pack incredible flavor!
One of our favorite wild-foraged foods is our native wild black cherry (Prunus serotina), which ripen in early summer here in Zone 7b. These small cherries are slightly smaller than a blueberry, but pack a ton of flavor and nutrition, which means they can be made into a wide variety of foods and beverages.
Wild black cherries also have a long history of culinary use. Various Native American societies used them in breads, cakes, stews, drinks, and pemmican (a mixture of meat, tallow, and fruit that was dried for preservation purposes).
How do we use wild black cherries? On the beverage front, our favorite use of this native fruit is fermented wild black cherry cordial.
However, there are infinite ways to use this common wild fruit in your kitchen, including our new soup recipe detailed below!
What do wild black cherries taste like?
Wild black cherries have 10x the flavor intensity of commercial sweet cherries but about half the sweetness.
As their name implies, wild black cherries are ripe when their skin and flesh are so dark purple that they appear black. There’s a marked difference in flavor improvement between slightly unripe, more red-colored cherries versus fully ripe fruit.
Where do black cherries grow in the US?
Wild black cherries (and various subspecies) are widespread throughout the eastern half of the US north to the Canadian side of the Great Lakes. Their range also extends far to the south, all the way into Mexico.
Livestock farmers tend to loathe wild black cherry trees. That’s because the leaves are perhaps the #1 killer of ruminates such as cows and goats in the US.
These animals eat the sweet-tasting leaves (fresh or dried fall leaves), after which the cyanogenic or hydrogen cyanide compounds (aka prussic acid) poisons them, resulting in severe illness or death.
Just to be clear: ripe wild black cherry fruit is perfectly safe to eat. Just don’t eat other parts of the tree (not that you’re tempted to do so.
Chokecherries versus wild black cherries
Prunus serotina is closely related to chokecherries (Prunus virginiana), although their fruit is much better flavored than chokecherries. How do you tell the two species (and fruit) apart? Chokecherries only grow in the northern half of the US and tend to have smaller leaves and lighter colored/red fruit relative to wild black cherries.
You can use chokecherries as a substitution for wild black cherries in this chilled soup recipe, but you might need to alter the ratios of some of the other ingredients to your taste in order to compensate for the difference in fruit flavor.
Meggyleves: the inspiration for this soup recipe
We’re always looking for new and interesting ways to use our favorite home-grown and foraged ingredients like wild black cherries. So when I stumbled upon an Hungarian chilled cherry soup made from wild European sour cherries, my ears perked up.
The name of the soup is meggyleves. In Hungarian, meggy means sour cherries and leves means soup. Versions of the soup are also made throughout other Eastern European countries, with exact recipes varying by region, town, village, and whoever happens to be standing over the pot.
Meggyleves can be made sweeter or more savory as your heart desires. It can also include a fairly wide range of ingredients, including fresh herbs or dried spices like cinnamon and cloves.
However, all versions of meggyleves include certain core ingredients, namely cherries in combination with some type of fermented/sour dairy such as yogurt, milk kefir, sour cream, etc. Typically, sugar is also added. And the soup is always served chilled, usually as an appetizer or side dish.
Our version of meggyleves made with American wild black cherries is savory with a hint of sweet provided by maple syrup rather than cane sugar. Additional flavors and depth are provided by:
- fresh leaves of common fennel,
- sauteed onions,
- organic whole greek yogurt AND cream,
- egg (preferably duck egg, but a chicken egg will do),
- fresh lemon juice, and
- cinnamon and clove powder.
The result is a gorgeous pink-purple soup that’s an explosion of flavor complexity. Since it’s chilled, this soup makes a perfect appetizer or side dish on a hot summer day, similar to gazpacho.
Step-by-step: Recipe tips and process photos
Here are the kitchen supplies you’ll need to make this recipe:
- small soup pan
- food processor or blender
Now, let’s quickly go step-by-step through process photos and tips to help you get this recipe right on your first attempt:
Step 1: Make the condensed wild black cherry soup base
In this recipe, we use 1 heaping cup of wild black cherries, a little over 6 ounces. This amount of cherries yields a more subtly flavored soup on the cherry front. You could go as high as 2 cups of wild black cherries if you really want to dial up the cherry flavor in your soup.
You’ll start by putting your wild black cherries in a small soup pan, then smashing them with a muddler or potato masher. Then add the water, maple syrup, cinnamon, clove, and salt to the pan. Start cooking over medium heat to slowly bring to a low boil.
During recipe creation, we used an induction burner that’s quite precise on temperature. We started at 300°F (149°C) for the first 10 minutes then turned the temp down to 260°F (127°C) and continued to cook the cherries for another ~25 minutes.
The aim here is to extract all the flavor from the cherry pulp while reducing the total liquid volume by about 50% in order to create a more concentrated soup base. 4 cups is where you start, and 2 cups is where you should finish when you remove the soup pan from the heat.
Once done, strain to remove the cherry pits.
Step 2: Saute the onions & prep other ingredients while cherries are still cooking
About 10 minutes into cooking the cherries, start sautéing your onions with a bit of butter until golden brown. Then set aside.
Also do the following before the cherries finish:
- In small bowl, whisk duck egg (or chicken egg) and set aside.
- Juice 2 tablespoons of lemon juice and set aside.
- Chop about 1/4 cup of fresh fennel leaves (not tough stems) and set aside. You could also use fennel bulbs but they’re less intensely flavored.
Step 3: Blend ingredients in correct sequence.
While the strained cherry soup based and sauteed onions are still warm (not hot), put them into a blender or food processor with the fennel and blend until smooth.
Next, slowly pour in the whisked egg while the blender/food processor is on. The residual heat from the cherries and onions will delicately cook the egg at a low temperature without curdling it while helping thicken the soup a bit.
Once the egg is incorporated, add the other ingredients and blend until smooth.
Note: Some meggyleves recipes use flour, corn starch, or roux to thicken the soup, whereas we use an egg. If you want an even thicker soup, you can also add one of these starches.
Step 4: Chill in fridge for at least 1 hour before serving.
Next, pour your cherry soup into a large canning jar or other covered vessel and put it in your fridge to chill. You’ll want to let it chill for at least one hour before serving – ideally more.
Ready to serve? Pour into bowls and garnish. Good garnishes could include:
- a dollop of yogurt of creme fraiche,
- fresh herbs like mint or hyssop,
- edible seasonal flowers.
Recipe: Chilled American wild black cherry soup, inspired by Hungarian meggyleves (sour cherry soup)
Now let’s get cooking!
Chilled American wild black cherry soup (inspired by Hungarian meggyleves)
Turn American wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) into a delicious chilled summer soup, inspired by Hungarian meggyleves.
- 3 cups water
- 1 cup (heaping cup) wild black cherries or a little over 6 ounces
- 1/4 cup maple syrup Alternative: Add honey instead of maple syrup. If you use honey, don't cook it - instead only add it at the end in the blender so you don't degrade it's health-promoting properties.
- 1 tbsp unsalted grass-fed butter
- 1 cup organic whole greek yogurt
- 1/2 cup cup organic cream
- 1 egg (preferably duck egg, but chicken will do)
- 1/4 cup chopped fennel leaves, not stems
- 1/2 cup onion, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp fresh lemon juice
- 1/4 tsp cinnamon
- pinch of clove powder
- 1/4 tsp salt
Put wild black cherries in a small soup pan, then mash them with a muddler or potato masher. Add water, maple syrup, cinnamon, clove, and salt to the pan. Start cooking over medium-high heat to slowly bring to a low boil. After 10 minutes, reduce heat and continue cooking at a low boil for another 25 minutes or however long needed to reduce total volume by half. (Start point: 4 cups, finished point: 2 cups.)
When done, strain to remove cherry pits but try to scrape as much cherry pulp as possible through strainer.
Once cherries have been cooking for about 10 minutes, sauté onions with a bit of butter until golden brown. Set aside. Also prep the following three ingredients while your cherries are still cooking: 1) whisk duck egg (or chicken egg), 2) juice 2 tablespoons of lemon juice, 3) chop 1/4 cup of fresh fennel leaves (not tough stems).
While the strained cherry soup base and sauteed onions are still very warm, put them into a blender or food processor with the fennel and blend until smooth. Next, slowly pour in the whisked egg while the blender/food processor is on. Finally, add all other ingredients (cream, yogurt, lemon juice) and blend until smooth.
Pour soup into large glass jar or container and refrigerate for at least 1 hour before serving. This wild cherry soup is best eaten within 24-48 hours but can store in your fridge for up to 5 days or so.
Once you have your first spoonful of chilled American wild black cherry soup, let us know what you think!
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