Recently, a dear and too-long-no-see cousin (my pessar amoo to be exact) came for a visit to New York and after a day of expedition in the city thrilled us all by showing up with a foraged harvest of the beauties you see in the picture below. Leave it to an out-of-town explorer to unveil the secret delights of your city!
If you have to ask, “what the heck are these?” you are certainly not of Persian persuasion. If, however, when looking at this picture your mouth waters and you are all at once covetous, excited, and deeply curious as where this loot was found — you are almost certainly a hyphenated or sans-hyphen-Iranian in diaspora.
A popular summer fruit called zoghal akhteh in Iran, this berry-like fruit (dubbed “Cornelian Cherry” in the West) is rarely if ever eaten in the U.S. — and then, mostly by the birds! Unless foraged by Iranian, Russian, Turkish, or Eastern European enthusiasts who have since the ancient times enjoyed its goodness.
Cornelian Cherry’s taste is a combination of tart and floral – hard to describe. The less ripe it is, the harder the flesh and more astringent the flavor, but when dark red and ripe, it is more sweetly floral than tart and has a soft mushy texture.
In Iran, zoghal akhteh is mostly enjoyed as a fresh fruit – sometimes sprinkled with salt; and it is also sold dried (tasting like a tangy combination of raisins and cranberry) which is a very popular snack to munch on. Zoghal akhteh is also preserved and turned into sharbat (floral or fruit-based Persian syrups that are diluted with ice cold water to make fabulous summertime drinks) and moraba (jam) and marmalade and torshi (pickles.)
The zoghal akhteh torshi or pickle is exceedingly simple to prepare and does not require a recipe so much as an assemblage direction:
- Fill a sterilized jar 3/4th of the way with berries of (ideally) the same size, color, firmness and ripeness. (Trick: if yours are unripe, puncture berries a few times with a toothpick, they will soften when marinating in vinegar.) Add a pinch of dried mint (optional) and fill with your pickling vinegar of choice. (The plain old Heinz white vinegar I used works fine, although it’s a tad too harsh for my taste.) I added a very small clove of garlic as well, but in hindsight advise against its use, as even that little amount of garlic dominated and diminished the aroma of the Cornelian cherry.
- Seal and store in a cool dark place. Best after 1-2 weeks but it can also be enjoyed within a day. Makes a good sidekick for rich & robust meals or sandwiches. (Note: Cornelian cherry has a good sized pit. Exercise caution and contain exuberance when enjoying the pickle.]
With the remainder of my beautiful bounty of zoghal akhteh, I made a divine bottle of sharbat; several jars of meh-but-not-too-bad moraba aka jam; and a batch of pretty, pink, and delicious marmalade. Respective recipes to follow in separate posts later this week, so keep your eyes peeled.
How beautiful and where did you find those beautiful cherries, I am amazed at your foraging skills!! I can personally attest to the deliciousness of the Sharbat as I was the lucky recipient of a jar of this gorgeous and uttlerly delicious concoction. It’s tart and sweet and so so good!!! Love your post as I always do, prior to this I had never tasted Cornelian Cherries, they are wonderful.
Thank you Suzanne! The location is … secret! 😉 (No seriously, I’ll be happy to let you know when we talk. They’re gone by now though, till next August)
Oh no a secret well can I interest you in a bribe, LOL. They are gone now but next year I will see if I can offer a bribe for the whereabouts of the cherry tree!!
Yes you can bribe me with your continuing friendship. And of course I’ll tell you where it it.
Loving that you managed (or was it your cousin) to forage these in NYC! Actually, one area that I lived in London had a massive walnut tree in a small park across the street, that was only used by locals. I used to love collecting lots of those at this time of year.
It was in two rounds Johnny. Cousin made the discovery and then I made a follow up visit and foraged to my heart’s content. Love the walnut tree story. There’s just something so nice about picking fruit off a tree.
Wow, I have never seen these cherries… and am now fascinated! Love your posts, always an interesting read!
Thank you Lizzy – really appreciate it!
I hope you will stumble upon a tree or a stash of it sometime, the taste of this fruit is hard to describe and I’d be so curious to see what you’d make of it.
Your photos are just gorgeous. I’ve never heard of Cornelian Cherries and don’t know if we get them here in the UK but I shall seek some out if so!
Thank you Jenny! : ) Do seek them out. I’ve read that in the West their trees are often used in the landscape design of parks. At least this is so in the U.S. Right now is the tail end of their season. Wonder if a film star would have used these berries? ; )
I know someone in real life who just went to Berlin and thought WOW! what a coincidence! & then later found out it’s you! 😀 Love that you’re reading and commenting! Thank you for sharing the tidbit, never would have thought Berlin of all places would have these Cornelian Cherry trees growing all around it. Hope you took a few tastes.
What a wonderful find. I have not heard of them before, and I imagine how excited you were when your cousin showed up with them…along with a “secret location”. A lovely post. I can not imagine how they taste “pickled” in garlic…although I did read how in hindsight you would have omitted it. I keep thinking…olives…for some reason.
Thank you! Funny you should mention olives because the pit to flesh ration of the fruit is comparable to the olives; and similarly, you pretty much eat them with the pit and just spit it out. As for the pickle, it’s good with the garlic, but the rascal garlic steals the show which is not as it should be!
I have never had or seen pickled cherries before, only brandied cherries! What an interesting idea. Thank you for sharing!
These Cornelian cherries have a different texture and flavor from cherries — they are more like berries! But yeah, actually no reason not to try pickling cherries, it may turn out quite wonderfully!
ciao! just the best post…delicious.
I’ve never heard of these particular cherries. I wish that I could try one… not sure if they grow in this country though 🙁 Love the fact that you can eat them pickled. Your pictures are beautiful as per usual Azita! xx
I’ve never heard of these cherries either. Picked berries sound so interesting. And hey noticed to words in common – ‘Sharbat’ and ‘Moraba’
really? very interesting and it makes sense too, I think the circles of our cultures have interlapped quite a few times and for good periods of time too. I love gaining these tidbits of information and find it to be one of the best things about keeping this blog
I know exactly where I could forage for these, unfortunately in DC area, 2 hrs away from me. Exactly where I cannot tell. Shh, I’ll reveal with a bribe. Of course I’m never there in August when they’re at their peak of ripeness. I didn’t know what to do with them, anyway, until now. 🙂
I often go to DC … now I’ll have to put on my foraging hat. What am I saying … visits home to the DC area are entirely spent vegging around, but it does my heart good to hear that these little red beauties can be found there as well. I now just have to think of something to bribe you with … hmmm 😉
I want a bottle of that!
[…] other day I shared the foraging tale of Cornelian cherry (zoghal akhteh) — a cranberry-lookalike savored in many countries but left to the birds & […]
I love that I popped by your blog, following a comment that you made about foraging, and you have taught me a new crop to use. I am also falling deeper in love with Persian cooking at the moment, so this is the perfect thing for them, if I come across some Cornus (we call it dogwood).
I’ve also been inspired to try a pickle with sour cherries, so thank you. I know of one tree, but unless I am there at the exact moment of ripeness, the tree is stripped in minutes. Whether by birds, or other humans, I haven’t quite worked out yet.
that’s wonderful! I look forward to following your posts and seeing how the Persian cooking develops. Very interested to see how your sour cherry pickles turn out. Sour cherry is a wonderful fruit that unfortunately is very rarely available here in the markets, alas.
Re that tree: I smell humans! 😉
– I don’t know why I did not see your posts in my ‘Reader’ starting this one. It happened before too. ??? I refreshed the ‘follow’ button… I hope it gets fixed.
– I know about zoghal akhteh, but never tried them. I have no clue how it tastes. But I like you explanation of ‘tart and floral’.
– I like the new colors of your blog… Great Photos!
dear Fae, yeah it looks like I’ve fallen off the WP Reader for some reason and starting with that post. Meanwhile I’m thrilled to see your beautiful & smiley profile icon showing up on my blog posts again. The sight always cheers me up.
Prior to this I may have had zoghal akhteh once or twice when I lived in Iran so it was somewhat of a novel experience for me as well. I bet you there should be tons of its trees growing in your neck of the woods. Hope you’ll spot some! xox
hi every one .can i have cornelian cherry in california ?
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This is a wonderful post. I discovered a few cornelian cherry trees in one of my local parks (I live in Midwest US). I had no idea what they were–I was thinking wild plums. It took hours and some help from online friends to identify what I had foraged. Once I knew what they were, the search was on for information, and this post is one of the most interesting that I’ve found so far!
I’m thrilled to hear from you and your foraging tale and escapade! I applaud your tenacity in figuring out what yo had foraged and I hope you found the recipes useful and thank you for the kind words!
I didn’t get to forage anew this summer but just the other day I was sampling some of the sweet preserved I’d made last summer (pits and all) and it tastes so delicious. But you know what: the pickles in a way were my favorite. Although the sharbat syrup was the most popular all around.
Anyway, enjoy the fruits of your labor, dear Andrea! 🙂
I admit that the pickle recipe intrigues me the most, as I already have tons of jams preserved for the winter.
Sorry to hear that you didn’t get to forage some this summer, but that is the beauty of preserves! 🙂 I am going to visit the trees I found again soon, when the fruits are bit more ripe.
Thank you for responding! Your blog is amazing, I will visit often.
Okay another comment, not stalking, promise. I just had to come back with a follow-up. We went back to the trees today (which the parks service had *gasp* butchered the bottom halves of!). Today the fruit is so ripe it’s dripping from the trees (the tops of the trees, since the bottoms have been trimmed away, much to my sadness). The taste is completely different than when the fruit was ‘kinda-ripe’ a couple of weeks ago. Oh my goodness…I’ve never tasted anything like it. I collected as many of the fragile skin-bursting fruits as I could, made a real mess out of the bottoms of my shoes and jeans in the process, and am planning to eat most of the super ripe ones plain. WOW. I have come across a an absolute –though fleeting and seasonal– treasure.
No worries, love getting updates! Yeah, it’s amazing the taste and texture of the fruit drastically changes as it ripens. Once it’s this ripe, the best thing is just eating it as it is. Although you could still make a nice fruit syrup with it as well.