The equinox is almost here and I'm leaning in. It's getting dark earlier and I have six candles lit in the kitchen, two by the stove and four at the table. It's been storming for hours and the ocean is loud outside my door. Even if a tempest wasn't rolling through, making medicine by candlelight is my preferred method. The quality of light inspires a different approach: by candlelight, one must follow the feeling of the process rather than a detailed exactness that bright, overhead lighting encourages. To finish setting the scene: I am listening to songs that are best listened to by candlelight: glowing, fuzzy, somewhat mournful songs.
It's nine-thirty pm and I've decided to make chokecherry syrup. I have a special fondness for syrups - what a sweet way to administer medicines! Having them on hand really does let one savour the sweetness of summer in deep winter. I mix them into cordials, pour them on top of breakfast porridges, add them into medicinal vinegars, take them right by the spoonful. For the past month I've been adding the red fruits to a bag in the freezer whenever I find a ripe stand. The chokecherry gathering has varied over the summer; which makes sense. Each coastal cove has a distinct relationship to fog and the warmth of the sun, so storing them in the freezer prolongs the length of harvest and feels like an easeful strategy during the already full summer days. If you're unfamiliar with chokecherry, don't worry. You can use any berries/fruit you have on hand from the summer's bounty to make fruit syrup (Hello winter's supply of elderberry syrup! Hello delicious rose hip syrup!). The wild cherries are special medicines that I am happy to have in the apothecary for the coughs and colds of winter. 
I pour the frozen gems into a heavy-bottom pot and cover the fruits with water. Not too much water, just enough to cover the bottom of the pot. I've also added a splash of apple cider vinegar – just to help pull the minerals out and add a little boost to the syrup. I put the lid on, bring the pot to a boil, maybe for five minutes? Just long enough for the fruit to break down. Working with frozen fruits helps too; the freezing process breaks down the cell walls so you don't have to cook them as long. The scent of the simmering chokecherries reminds me of the smell of the fermenting fallen apples that are on the side of the road everywhere here. A bittersweet smell.
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pressing the chokecherries for juice
Once the fruit has softened, I let it all cool for a few minutes while I help myself to another mug of burdock tea. I've been making it in big pots, keeping it on the back of the stove – a yearly tradition of asking this great taproot to lead the way through the twilight time of year.
Working in batches, I push the chokecherry mush through a sieve and into a bowl with the back of a spoon. There are probably more efficient ways to do this, but I enjoy the work of slow process, candles burning, separating the fruit juice from the round pit. I'm getting accustomed to the dark nights once more. I make sure to press down again and again, until no more liquid falls into the bowl below. I set aside the seeds and excess pulp for a different day, those will be dried and ground up later… Tonight, my focus is the juice. With each batch that is pressed, I make sure to scrape the bottom to get any thick mush that is stuck to the outside of the sieve. That's the good stuff and I don't want to waste a drop. 
The pressing is the longest task. It takes me a while to make one cup of deep red chokecherry juice. It's gorgeous stuff, but rather bitter. So now we add the sweetener. I pour the juice back into the pot and begin to warm it on the stove. If I had it my way, I would have had an orange on hand to add some zest into the mix. No orange, but I do squeeze a half lemon in, on a whim. Can't hurt. The syrup ratio is easy to remember: for every one cup juice you add two cups sugar. Once the juice is hot again, I add the sugar, stirring to dissolve. All done. The night ends on a gospel song playing while I pour the finished syrup into a glass jar. I tuck it into the fridge to thicken after a final sip of burdock root. It's late now, so I leave the dishes for tomorrow. 
To our heavy harvest baskets, to our sweet medicines, to the approaching long nights,
xx Liz 
p.s. If you are someone who likes medicine making by candlelight, I want you to know that my winter folk magic course, Tending The Hearth, is open for registration. This will be the last year this class is offered in this way. 
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