How to Smash Chokecherries

A few weeks ago, Michael gave us a demonstration on how to smash chokecherries the old time way.

He gave us a great appreciation for this time honored tradition - how labor intensive this was and reflects on what people may have done to pass the time. He also shared a few Lakota terms for the different tools and techniques used in the process.

Here's Michael…

I got some fresh chokecherries from my friend Jerry Goes In Center and I'm going to process them in the way they would've been processed years and years ago.

(I'm wrapped in this lovely sheet because its such a mess and have covered my table in plastic because the cherries fly all over).

These are some old tools. These (referring to a set of stones on his table) I got from my friend Marge Mousseaux. They were her grandmother's and her name was Martha Mary On The Ground.

What you do is put very few cherries on your bottom rock and just smash them with the smaller rock…its pretty basic. Pits and all - you want the pits in there because that's what gives it that flavor!

You can tell when the pits are smashed when you don't get those little white flecks. As you smash the cherries, you want to keep scraping up the mush and bringing it to the center…then just keep smashing! The mush will be kind of gritty - you'll be able to see the darker skin and the white pits, and that's what smashes out.

This is something that nomadic people used to use. Its kind of the last of the Stone Age, really. These little sets were very portable and just part of the kitchen equipment of every family…which I think is just a neat thing.

Normally, I think people would position these on the ground and in the old days (from what I read) pound the cherries in a large, deep rawhide bowl that would catch all the flying bits.

This is great fun for me; I've always wanted to try this….and you know what it really show's me? It shows me how much energy and time hunter gatherer people put into food - gathering food and preparation. See? All those berries I did made this little tiny bit (holding up a small glob is smashed cherry pulp).

Once you get a small handful of mush, you can flatten it out into a small patty. Then want to let them dry out - I use an old window screen covered with cheese cloth and set it in the shade on inside the house.

The dried patties can last a long time. It takes maybe 3 or 4 patties to a couple quarts of water to reconstitute them. Strain out anything you don't want and then cook them in the water for a bit. You can sweeten to taste with sugar or honey (I think less is better, I love the taste of the bittersweet cherry! If you try this with cherry juice without the pits, its not the same!)

Then you want to thicken it. In the old days, they would crush up dried turnips called tinpsila. They would thicken the reconstituted and chokecherries with powdered tinpsila.

Nowadays, people love to eat this with fry bread. I think in the old days, they would just eat it by itself or maybe served it with meat. Wouldn't it be good to try this thicken gravy on some buffalo and marry those flavors together? It would be a contemporary fusion of ancient food…and this ancient food is real special because it is so old.

Continuing to smash cherries…

You just got to get those pits pounded up…I imagine I could be here all day! I suppose when people did this before they would get together and just visit and talk about things…I bet they even had songs for these things, which some people still may know, but so much of that stuff has just past…

Wow (as he continues to smash cherries) is that something…look at that tiny bit! That's a lot of work, folks!

I suppose some people were probably better at this than others and talked about how someone didn't smash their cherries enough. Which I suppose, if you're into telling stories about somebody...I bet there was plenty.

But, that's basically it…its just poundin' with rocks!