The small ripe berries of the black cherry Prunus serotina have a large pit and only a small layer of pungent flesh beneath the skin. This fruit has been used since colonial times to make a homemade cough syrup. In more recent times black cherry is found as a flavoring in a variety of commercial alcohol-sugar containing syrups and sugar-rich flavored tablets that are slowly dissolved in the mouth to suppress the coughing. The mechanism by which the strong aromatic components from wild cherry or lemon mixed with sugar will suppress coughs, whereas similar preparations from apple and apricot are not similarly effective is an interesting area of study.
The ripe 3mm fruits from the wild cherry is selectively gathered by shaking the branches and collecting the fallen fruit on a sheet. The unripe reddish-colored fruit remains on the stems. The ripening period takes place over a period of weeks in mid-summer, enabling several harvests to be taken from a single tree.
In Georgia, no small numbers of relatively harmless insects will also fall onto the sheet. Kids can get an informal biology lesson while participating in the process. The juice will stain clothing and hands if the berries are crushed, so old clothing should be worn. As will be seen in the video below, dogs will also eat the ripe fruit as will many other animals and birds.
Once gathered, the fruit is washed and the small stems are removed. This is a tedious job, and it may take an hour to wash and clean a gallon of fruit. An alternative method is to grind the fruit, stems and all. The fruit is placed in a container. Sugar and alcohol are added to leach the fruit and support the fermentation process. A variety of alcohols may be used and an inexpensive Bourbon is often used in the South. Some means must be provided to allow the escape of gasses released during the process.
After approximately 6 months the liquid is decanted from the fruit and the Black Cherry Bounce may be served. A similar product may also be made from blackberries or other fruits. Making variously flavored alcohol extracts and wine from seasonal fruits was often a seasonal activity in 18th and 19th Century rural America.
Besides its use as a cough syrup, it may be drunk as a cordial or used as a flavoring over ice cream or in baking.
The video below will take you through much of the process. About once a month shake the container to promote fermentation. After fermentation is complete the produce is strained through a cloth, the liquid allowed to stand while any sediment settles and then bottled. This video is also on YouTube at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KVhkYJINMqE&layer_token=70e7d29db17095ba should you have any problems viewing this version.