Find out how to turn wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) into fermented wild black cherry cordial – a delicious, fizzy, probiotic health tonic!
We love homemade fermented foods and view them as one of the keys to good health, as we’ve written about here and here. We also enjoy fermented beverages, something we started experimenting with years ago when making water kefir, milk kefir, kombucha, and tepache (from the skins of our homegrown pineapples).
At the end of the day, we enjoy watching the sunset with our ducks while enjoying a cold homemade beverage (or warm beverage during the cold months). Each night is different, depending on what’s ripe in our yard or what we’ve recently foraged.
Some recent favorites: muddled fresh raspberries and makrut lime leaves, sparkling elderflower syrup, dwarf tamarillo and calamondin oranges.
As a general rule, we either use whole fruit, skin and all, or we use the whole fruit to make a fermented beverage. Option 1, using whole fruits/berries, is largely a prebiotic, providing lots of good fiber to feed our resident gut microbes). Option 2, fermented beverages, is primarily a probiotic, introducing diverse species of beneficial microbes to our gut flora.
Our philosophy is that medicine should be delicious since we eat and drink it regularly each day.
Our nightly beverage tradition has caused us to look at various plants in a unique light. For instance, instead of seeing mimosa trees (Albizia julibrissin) purely as invasive trash trees, we now also see them in a more eastern sense.
In China, they’re called the “tree of happiness,” since the flowers and bark are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental health problems. It just so happens that mimosa flowers also make an absolutely delicious fermented beverage as well, that tastes almost exactly like the flowers smell.
Native black cherry trees: trash or treasure?
Similarly, our native black cherry trees (Prunus serotina) seem to be held in little regard outside of being prized by furniture and cabinetmakers for its gorgeous wood. Farmers hate the trees since compounds in their leaves can kill or sicken their livestock when eaten.
And nobody seems to care much for the tiny bittersweet wild cherries that the tree produces, other than some old timers who make them into jellies, pies, and sauces. However, we’ve absolutely fallen in love with black cherry trees ever since we experimented with the fruit for the first time.
Recently, while out foraging for chanterelle mushrooms, we walked out of the woods into a clearing to find a patch of black cherry trees with low-hanging branches completely covered with ripe fruit. Needless to say, we quickly found room in our harvest basket for both mushrooms and wild cherries.
A week later, and we’d turned them into a test batch of fermented (sparkling) black cherry cordial ready to taste. We LOVED it, as did our guests.
Wild black cherry cordial is similar to the taste of domesticated cherries, but intensified by many orders of magnitude, likely due to higher concentrations of the wild cherries’ unique antioxidant compounds. The fermentation process adds bubbles to the drink that serve to further enhance the flavor while adding a visceral dynamism to each sip.
A few days later, we went back to the same spot to pick more wild black cherries to make a bigger batch of fermented wild black cherry cordial, using the recipe we share below.
How to make Fermented Wild Black Cherry Cordial
Some helpful process photos
We share our exact fermented wild black cherry recipe at the bottom of this article, but we also wanted to add some process photos to help you more easily make this recipe:
1. Smashing the cherry fruit open.
2. Cover with breathable cloth, and let the fermentation begin!
3. Stirring and tasting until your wild black cherry cordial is “done.”
Can you make other fruit cordials the same way?
We’ve got wonderful new for you: you can use this basics from this wild black cherry cordial recipe to make delicious ferments from basically any fresh, seasonal fruit you pick! The same basics also apply to fermented flower cordials (wisteria, elderflowers, etc).
Modify ingredient ratios according to your tastes and the inherent sweetness/sugar content of the fruit you’re using. For instance, strawberries are much sweeter than wild black cherries, so we’d bump down the sugar and bump up the acid/lemon juice.
Recommended items for making wild black cherry cordial (and similar fermented beverages)
Here are a few things we mention in the recipe that we highly recommend you get if you plan to regularly make fermented beverages:
- Anchor Hocking Heritage Hill Glass Jar (2 gallon or 1 gallon) – *we don’t recommend putting acidic foods or making ferments in plastic containers even if they’re labeled BPA-free
- Reusable, flip-top brew bottles that allow you to easily release the pressure building in your stored jars caused by the CO2. Warning: if you get into fermented beverages, the “pop” sound of one of these bottles being opened will trigger a Pavlovian response and you’ll start drooling each time you hear it.
- Organic raw cane sugar – contains more flavor and micronutrients than highly refined sugar and it’s grown in a way that isn’t absolutely horrid for the environment and farm workers. (Read here and here for reference.)
- High quality citric acid
Recipe: Fermented wild black cherry cordial (from Prunus serotina)
Fermented wild black cherry cordial (Prunus serotina)
A surprisingly simple recipe that lets you turn wild black cherries (Prunus serotina) into fermented wild black cherry cordial - a delicious, fizzy, probiotic health tonic!
- 5 cups ripe wild black cherries raw/uncooked
- 15 cups cold water
- 5 cups raw organic cane sugar
- 2 teaspoons citric acid if you'd prefer to use lemon juice, 1/4 teaspoon powdered citric acid = 1 Tablespoon lemon juice, so use 8 tablespoons of lemon juice
If necessary, clean cherries by floating them in a large pot of cold water. Any debris or insects will rise to the surface and can be poured off into the sink. Then strain out the cherries.
In a large glass jar (we used a 2 gallon jar linked in the supplies section above article) thoroughly smash the raw cherries by hand or with kitchen implement.
Add in all the other ingredients, and stir until the sugar has dissolved.
Cover with a cheese cloth or a linen towel (tie on with string or rubber band to ensure cloth is secure). It's very important that the cordial can breathe but no insects like fruit flies can get into the container. Store in a climate controlled location out of direct sunlight (a closet shelf works great).
Set a phone/calendar reminder to stir the concoction at least once every 24 hours, but every 12 hours is ideal. This helps the native yeast and aerobic bacteria on the fruit breathe and proliferate. They're the good critters that you're selecting for and feeding with sugar and fruit juice/skins. The longer you allow the fermentation to continue, the more sugar the culture will consume and the less sweet the final product will taste. As the sucrose (sugar) is digested by the yeasts; they create carbon dioxide, which creates the delightful tiny bubbles in your ferment) and ethanol (alcohol).
Taste a teaspoon of your wild cherry cordial daily after each stir so you can bottle it exactly at the point that you prefer it. We like a slightly sour, very bubbly wild cherry cordial, which usually takes between 5-7 days.
Once the flavor and bubbles are just right for you, strain out all the seeds, skin, and pulp so all you're left with is a dark red/purple liquid. Pour into jars (see jar recommendations below recipe) and store in the fridge immediately. The cold temps of your fridge drastically slow microbial activity, essentially putting the microbes to sleep and slowing the fermentation process to a crawl. This allows your living cherry cordial to be safely stored in the fridge for 2-3 months. Drink and enjoy!
In case you’re wondering, this recipe produces a very lightly alcoholic beverage on par with kombucha, maybe 2-3% ABV. If you want a more alcoholic beverage, you can use the cordial as a base for a mixed drink.
Let us know how your first (or next) batch of fermented wild black cherry cordial turns out!
Get a taste of other articles you’ll love:
- Golden raspberry, elderflower, and honey fermented cordial
- Native passionfruit (Passiflora incarnata) & Meyer lemon sparkling cordial
- Fermented wild black cherry (Prunus serotina) cordial
- Sparkling fermented lemonade with honey
- Honey-fermented kumquats
- Easiest turmeric and ginger bug recipe
- Wisteria, mimosa, and other wild flower cordials
- Chickweed wine recipe
- Tony & Andrea’s pumpkin “champagne” recipe
- Fermented chicha morada – purple corn beer
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SharonAugust 31, 2022 at 2:37 pm
Could this recipe be used without the fermentation to make cider ?
Aaron von FrankAugust 31, 2022 at 3:03 pm
You could probably make a really good cherry cider using wild black cherries, but the process would be different. Cider making also involves fermentation, although ciders are typically made using specific strains of commercial yeasts. We’ve never made a cherry cider, but you might search for a recipe, then substitute wild black cherries for standard commercial/store bought cherries. Or modify a peach cider recipe.
AnneOctober 1, 2021 at 1:35 pm
I want to thank you for the wild cherry cordial recipe. I just discovered their edibility this summer and was excited to find something like this to do with them. The cordial turned out really well! I let it go 12 days. My husband also flavored a batch of his kombucha with the cherries, which was fun.
Looking forward to trying other recipes, maybe red bud or mimosa next year. Thanks!
Aaron von FrankOctober 1, 2021 at 3:34 pm
Thanks, Anne! How did you all like your wild cherry-infused kombucha?
JeanineAugust 8, 2021 at 12:19 pm
I tried this with black raspberries while I wait for the black cherries to ripen. It is fantastic. A friend commented about bad bacteria getting captured in this process. I know you said the Citric acid helps counter this but could you expand more on keeping the process pure and safe for consumption. Thank you.
Aaron von FrankAugust 8, 2021 at 1:15 pm
The acidity by itself is not adequate to prohibit the proliferation of pathogenic microbes, but it’s helpful. Bumping up the initial acidity helps to create an ideal environment for beneficial microbes, namely various species of lactic acid bacteria (LAB) and native yeasts on the cherries/fruit. (You eat both of these organisms any time you eat a raw fruit or veggie.) Those microbes also benefit from a bit of oxygen which is why: 1) twice per day stirrings of your fermented cordial are important to keep them happy, and 2) you don’t want to use an air tight lid which prevents off-gassing or inhibits oxygen exchange.
As the “good” microbes proliferate, they also raise the overall acidity levels of the beverage, e.g. lower the pH. Pathogenic microbes can’t survive in a high acid environment – especially one that’s already chock full of these good microbes. The proverbial “hotel” has no vacancies and is not hospitable to strangers.
This fermented black cherry cordial recipe is a relatively short fermentation but is similar to methods used in other fermentations – wine, beer, kombucha, sauerkraut, etc. We have plenty of experience making all those other types of ferments as well as simple sparkling fruit cordials. In the decade+ that we’ve been making fermentations, we’ve never gotten sick and don’t intend to. If you understand the processes involved and follow the rules, you’ll never get sick from making fermentations either. Quite the opposite – the probiotics (beneficial microbes) + enhanced nutrition that results from fermentation should be beneficial to your health.
Hope this answers your question and alleviates any concerns. Happy fermenting to you!
LydiaAugust 4, 2021 at 11:14 am
I just discovered a wild black cherry tree in our backyard (we’re new to the neighborhood). I’m in the process of making my first batch – which is looking very good. I have scouted out a couple more trees at various stages of ripeness, but started wondering what to do after season is over. Can you make fermented cordial with most fruits? Are there some that are better than others (probably not banana?). Can you use frozen fruits? BTW, I love the adjustment slider for the recipe – I was only able to initially gather 2 cups of cherries.
Aaron von FrankAugust 4, 2021 at 10:28 pm
Hi Lydia! Glad you liked this recipe and recipe slider. 🙂
Yes, you can use this same basic recipe with other types of fruit and even edible flowers. The best fruits to use are strong-flavored (or mixes of fruits) – things like blackberries, raspberries, and other cane berries are wonderful. Dial back the sugar for commercial cherries or other sweet fruit which has a way higher sugar content than wild black cherries. You can also substitute honey instead of sugar for more nuanced, richer flavors. We also use this same basic recipe to make fermented/sparkling flower cordials with redbud, wisteria, mimosa, elderflower, and other edible flowers as detailed here: https://www.tyrantfarms.com/incredible-edible-wild-flowers/. Quite versatile – enjoy!
AnneOctober 1, 2021 at 1:30 pm
Redbud? I love those trees! You have opened a whole new way at looking at my backyard, thank you!!
Aaron von FrankOctober 1, 2021 at 3:33 pm
Wonderful to hear! There are so many interesting edibles out there at various points throughout the year. You could spend a lifetime studying (as we intend to) and still only scratch the surface of what’s available. Redbud flowers make a wonderfully flavorful and colorful cordial, so hope you enjoy yours next spring!
LynneJuly 31, 2021 at 1:57 pm
Can I leave the pits inside the fruit? I am concerned about cyanide levels in the pits. I have de-pitted some of them, but it really is a pain because they are so small. My neighbor has a tree and I have access to it and they fall down all over my alleyway. I do not want to get sick and drupe fruits including cherries do have cyanide in them. Thank you.
Aaron von FrankJuly 31, 2021 at 2:04 pm
Hi Lynne! Nope, don’t remove the wild cherry pits. There’s no risk of cyanide poisoning unless you smash the pits open, which would be pretty hard to do. Easiest thing to do (and what we do) is just to smush the fruit by hand and leave all of it (including the pits) in the drink as it ferments. Strain and remove pits, skin, and pulp at the end when it’s ready.
LynneJuly 31, 2021 at 3:25 pm
Thank you, that will make it so much easier. Looking forward to this now. Just printed out the recipe. Now I have to get to them before the birds do. They love these cherries. I am so glad I can finally glean and use these cherries instead of what has been just another addition to my compost pile in past years. I may also try to make a fermented fruit juice ( FFJ ) out of them that I can use in a foliar spray on my plants to add extra nutrition to my plants.
AnnalynJuly 23, 2021 at 12:46 am
Going to forage for black cherries in Central Park soon. What is the role the citric acid/lemon plays in the recipe?
Aaron von FrankJuly 23, 2021 at 7:02 am
Hi Annalyn! Citric acid/lemon juice does two things: 1) it provides a counterbalances to the sweet flavors, 2) it raises the acidity of the fermentation, thus reducing any likelihood of spoilage, aka undesirable microbes taking hold. Hope this helps and best of lucks foraging wild black cherries! FYI you can use this same recipe on other wild berries like black raspberries, thimbleberries, etc in your area. We were up in New York in mid-August two summers ago (in the city and the country around like Champlain), and were thrilled to find so many wild caneberries growing.
KarenJuly 20, 2021 at 8:43 am
I’ve made this a couple of years in a row and it’s fantastic. Not sure if my wild cherries are like yours but they taste more like a commercial cherry, just much smaller. I cut back to 4 cups of sugar because of their sweetness. Hoping to make one more batch as another tree on the property ripens a bit later. Highly recommend.
Aaron von FrankJuly 20, 2021 at 1:10 pm
Thanks Karen! There is a ton of genetic diversity in wild cherries (Prunus serotina). Thus, we do notice fruit flavor and size variability even between individual trees. However, most of the ones in our area are nowhere near as sweet as commercial cherries. They’re quite strong and tart-flavored, like commercial cherries with the sugar turned way down and the other flavors turned way up. What you did is ideal: customize the recipe for your specific fruit and flavor preferences. We also like to make this recipe with honey, which adds additional richness and flavor nuance. Glad you enjoyed – cheers!
KathyGJune 9, 2021 at 5:18 pm
I think you have a unit error or typo in the last item of the recipe: if you’re using 2 TABLEspoons of citric acid, that would equate to 24 TABLEspoons of lemon juice; if the 8 TABLEspoons of lemon juice is correct, then you should only need 2 TEAspoons of citric acid.
Aaron von FrankJune 10, 2021 at 12:24 pm
Ugh, thanks Kathy! Yes, that’s supposed to be 2 teaspoons of citric acid. Recipe updated.
Jeffrey WeinsteinJune 21, 2020 at 9:25 am
Just made this. I tried it before refrigerating and it was delicious. I used frozen pitted cherries from the store with another pound of fresh ones. Made a double batch (10L). Can’t wait to try the finished product!
Aaron von FrankJune 21, 2020 at 11:21 pm
Wonderful! Glad to hear the recipe turned out well with standard cherries. They’re a good bit sweeter than the wild ones. Enjoy!
Stephanie RattenborgAugust 2, 2019 at 6:30 pm
Can I use an airlock instead of cheesecloth?
Steve AndrewsJanuary 17, 2019 at 2:44 pm
I’m trying, to no avail, to find a commercial supplier of dried wild black cherries. Do you know of one? Does one even exist? Thanks!
dakJuly 10, 2018 at 3:10 pm
is this alcoholic?
Aaron von FrankJuly 23, 2018 at 9:52 am
It’s mildly alcoholic, probably in roughly the same range as kombucha (0.5-2%).