Wild cherries
Food + Drink

How to Make Cherry Bounce

Black cherry trees are native to Ohio and grow in forests and along meadows. Gather pints of its tiny fruit to make cherry bounce, a boozy infusion requiring only three ingredients.

One of the most common trees in Ohio bears a fruit we rarely notice. Prunus serotina, or black cherry, is a native that grows in forests and along the edges of meadows. And in the dog days of summer, it produces puny yet fantastic cherries — bittersweet and lightly tannic, with a moody complexity.

The tiny fruit is impractical for pies. Instead, gather pints to make cherry bounce, a classic boozy infusion requiring only three ingredients. In fact, black cherries work so well in this colonial-era tipple, it led to another of its common names: rum cherry.

You can easily identify mature trees by their grayish, scaly bark (not dissimilar to burned potato chips). Their pea-sized fruits dangle from a central stem in a cluster, like showy earrings.

The largest known black cherry tree in America is in Licking County, Ohio, standing at 111 feet.

When seeking fruit, though, look for branches within reach. Fields bordering woods are prime spots. I stake out my favorite trees periodically, and usually harvest in August. Red ones are hard and acrid; ripe ones are dark, plump, and shiny. I gather handfuls on walks and sample them one by one, spitting out less impressive specimens and savoring choice ones. (Leaves and twigs are toxic; only consume the fruit.)

Harvesting presents challenges. They’re often up too high to reach. A handy trick: lay down a tarp and shake the tree.But I favor of the precision of picking one by one. After half an hour, you’ll look at the meager volume of fruit in your tub and despair, but press on. Once in the zone you’ll not want to stop, savoring your time in the dappled shade with the birds chirping above. Making cherry bounce preserves the moment, which you can revisit by sipping sweet and sophisticated cocktails in the cold months to come.

The following recipe is from Sara Bir’s The Fruit Forager’s Companion: Ferments, Desserts, Main Dishes, and More from Your Neighborhood and Beyond (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2018) and is reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Black Cherry Bounce
| Makes 1 quart

Sweet but not overly so, cherry bounce is a cross between a cordial and a liqueur. The base liquor will influence the flavor. Rum and brandy are my favorites, complimenting the darker notes of the wild cherries. Some versions call for pitting the cherries, but the pits a) add an appealing almond note, and b) save you the fiddly task of pitting a pile of black cherries, which have a discouragingly high pit-to-flesh ratio.

Sip this neat, on ice, or mix it in cocktails for a locavore’s Manhattan or Old Fashioned. I add it to fruitcake batter and pitchers of sangria.

You can make this with any cultivated cherry, too. In either case, you can save the pomace you have after straining for cherry balsamic vinegar. Combine the strained-out pulp and pits with 1-1/2 cups balsamic vinegar in a quart jar. Let sit to infuse at least 2 weeks, and up to 6 months, before straining.

4 cups black cherries (or Bing cherries)
1 cup granulated sugar
4 cups rum, brandy, whiskey, bourbon or vodka

Stem and pick out any debris from the cherries before rinsing them. Mash them with your fingers in a big bowl (wear an apron; it’s messy). Transfer the mixture (including the pits) into a large jar. Add the sugar and stir. Let the jar sit for an hour or so, until the sugar dissolves a bit and the mixture is a loose muck. Add the booze of your choice, cover with a lid, and steep in a sunny spot for 10 days. Then move the jar to a dark, cool spot and age 1 month. The color should deepen during this time. When the bounce has reached the intensity you like, pour it through a cheesecloth-lined strainer (save the solids for making cherry balsamic vinegar, or just discard them). Pour into a sterilized bottle for storage. The cherry bounce will keep indefinitely in a cool, dark cabinet.