Sunday, December 12, 2010

Roast Duck with Chokecherry Barbecue Sauce

Plants. As a botanist, farmer, herbalist, and cook I study, grow, prepare, and consume them. Plants tie my passions together. Why? Some people are just plant people. We know who we are. My path to plant personhood is too long a story to share here. Actually, now that I think about it my plant story is basically my life story. I wonder if that is true of most plant people? I will say that foraging, or gathering wild plants for food, has been an important part of my life for a long time.

This meal, my second for the dark days challenge, (click here if you don't know what I mean by dark days) features the chokecherry. Chokecherries are easily found in the Western U.P. and are foraged, at least casually, by just about everyone who ventures outside around here.
How have I never taken a picture of the chokecherry?
Ah well, here is an old school one from the
to give you an idea.
The chokecherry, or Prunus virginiana, is an astringent (astringent food = unripe banana) little cherry that grows in racemes on scraggly bush/trees in brushy areas. A lot of folks pick it for jelly when it is ripe in late summer. It does make good jelly. It also makes an excellent barbecue sauce. You can find my chokecherry barbecue sauce recipe below. As a bonus, chokecherry bark makes a very effective cough syrup. It's a great "gateway" herb to convince non-believers of the efficacy of herbal remedies.

Chokecherries can be found in this Dark Day's dinner as barbecue sauce, which I made and canned last summer, and wine. We drank chokecherry honey wine from a vineyard called Threefold Vine Winery in Garden, Michigan, about 200 miles from me. That's a vineyard in Michigan's Upper Peninsula. For real.
The duck was one of the Khaki Campbells we raised last season. We also ate sweet potatoes grown by us and Brussels sprouts from a neighbor's garden. I basted the duck with a mixture of half butter (from Jilbert Dairy, about 115 miles from me) and half barbecue sauce. The bird weighed about 3 pounds and I roasted it at 400 degrees for around 35 minutes. When I removed it from the oven I let it rest on a plate and added my vegetables to the pan of duck fat, butter, and barbecue sauce. I turned the oven up to 450, put my pan of sweet potatoes and sprouts back in, and let them roast while the duck rested and my husband did the fancy carving job you see in the photo here.

Everything was good, but the roast vegetables in duck fat were definitely the highlight of the meal. I seriously recommend this method of cooking Brussels sprouts if you have the chance to try it.

I found the wine at a gas station of all places. I was already planning the duck with chokecherry barbecue sauce and I thought it would be fun to try a chokecherry wine with it. A sommelier I am not. It was much sweeter than I expected and didn't work so well with the barbecue sauce. It was surprisingly good with the roasted vegetables though. I liked the wine overall, but I like sweet, fruity, spicy things. It probably isn't something that wine lovers would rave about, but I think that is true of all cherry wines. I am very excited to try more things from Threefold Vine Winery. Especially the wines made from the grapes they grow. There is another winery even closer to me in Houghton that I will be purchasing wines from during the challenge, but they don't grow their own grapes. I still can't believe there is a vineyard in the U.P. Already, I love the things this challenge is helping me discover.

As promised above, here is my recipe for a small batch of chokecherry barbecue sauce. If ever you spend a pleasant afternoon picking three and a half pounds of chokecherries this is the thing to do with them. We like it on chicken as well as duck. I'm sure it's good on pork too, we just don't eat a lot of pork. I use either honey or sugar depending on what I have on hand. This year I used sugar. It's good either way, but I like it a bit better with honey. This recipe makes about three cups of barbecue sauce.

Chokecherry Barbecue Sauce
  • 3 1/2 pounds chokecherries
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1 tsp black mustard seed
  • 25 peppercorns
  • 2 whole cloves
  • 1 small onion, finely minced
  • 1/2 cup raw sugar or honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses
  1. Place the chokecherries and water over medium low heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot.
  2. Simmer until they have burst.
  3. Push the chokecherries through a strainer to make a thick pulp. You should end up with about two and a half cups of pulp.
  4. Return the pulp to a small heavy bottomed pan over medium low heat.
  5. Lightly crush the mustard seed, peppercorns, and cloves, tie them in a spice bag, and add the bag to the pulp.
  6. Stir the remaining ingredients into the pulp.
  7. Allow the pulp to barely simmer for about an hour.
  8. Remove the spice bag and puree the barbecue sauce with an immersion blender if you would like it to be very smooth. Leave it as is if you don't mind little chunks of onion.
  9. This can be refrigerated for about two months, but it keeps longer canned.
  10. Can half pints in a boiling water bath for ten minutes.


  1. I am a plant person too. Even as a tween, I studied herbal guides! Hey - I was just given a dozen duck eggs. Any suggestions on what I should do with them?

  2. Duck eggs are the best. We use them like chicken eggs. The texture is a bit different. Somehow the yolks are denser and the whites are lighter. Also they are sweeter and sometimes a little fishy tasting. Scrambled they are extra creamy and they make great omelets. My favorite thing to do with duck eggs is make egg salad. The texture is not like chicken eggs, but I like it better. If the non-chicken taste/texture turns you off the whites are great for baking because they are so sweet and whip up so well.

  3. I found your post after picking 16.5lbs of chokecherries last week. Am now at the "what was I thinking?!?!" point. I'm curious to know what kind of sieve (approximate diameter of the holes) you used. I tried pressing the warm cherries through a generic sieve I have, and it didn't really work. So I spent most of today squeezing the pits out, one by one, by hand. I'm thinking my end sauce will be much thicker than yours, but I'm okay with that.

    Very excited to get it simmering with the spices next. Thanks for such a great recipe, and I'll be sure to keep following!

  4. My sieve has a very tight mesh. My best approximation of the diameter is tiny :) Hope your sauce is coming along nicely!

  5. I have already boiled my choke cherries down and made juice out of them. (3 gallons of juice!!) Any suggestions on how I might modify this recipe to use juice in the place of pulp?

  6. Ditto to Emily Kay's comment...

  7. If you have juice rather than pulp, try cooking down the juice and then preceding with the recipe from step four. I've not tried this, so I'm not exactly sure how it will go. Just simmer very gently until the juice is reduced and thickened. I imagine the thickened juice will be sweeter than the pulp would be (they way dried fruit is so much sweeter than fresh) so you might decide to add less sugar or honey than the recipe calls for. Let me know how it turns out!