August 11, 2012

Moraba-ye Zoghal Akhteh - Persian Cornelian Cherry Jam

مرباMoraba-ye Zoghal Akhteh (cornelian cherry jam) recipe was a last minute decision as I was through simply eating a handful of these different shades of red tangy oval-shaped fresh summer fruit. Cornelian cherry has many health benefits and depending on their ripeness their taste ranges from slightly bitter to tart and tart-sweet. With only a bowl of zoghal akhteh left on the kitchen table I decided to make jam and I'm happy to say that the jam turned out great. Although, lavashak-e zoghal akhteh (fruit roll-up) still remains to be my favorite way of eating this amazing fruit.

If I had a zoghal akhteh tree in my backyard I would spread out a malafeh (bed sheet) or a sofreh (tablecloth) under the tree and shake the branches vigorously and gather all the fruits but this small batch of fruits were picked from a Cornelian cherry tree on a public property in a New York area. I only learned its English name when I posted a photo of zoghal akhteh on my Facebook page and thanks to my lovely FB page fans I found out its correct name. Let's hope that in the future fruit growers and producers make this delicious fruit readily available at farmers' markets here so we wouldn't have to hang from tree branches in parks and busy streets in front of curious passersby. In the meantime, I enjoyed this rare find and although cornelian cherries are hard to find and are not available everywhere I would like to share this jam recipe with you all. For me, zoghal akhteh is reminiscent of those hot summers in Tehran with all the best snacks and sour fruits such as walnuts in brine, faloodeh, goojeh sabz (green sour plums), shahtoot (mulberry), and plump dried zoghal akhteh to name a few.

I tried to remove the pits prior to cooking but the Cornelian cherry pit is hard to dislodge. I thought of all the women that I had seen throughout my young life in Iran who patiently sat around a sofreh and meticulously prepared fruits and vegetables for jams and pickles which back then seemed like a pointless waste of time. In recent years, I am paying more attention to how I cook and especially over the past three and a half years of blogging maintaining the authenticity of recipes has become increasingly important for me and the long ingredient list or the length of time it takes to cook is no longer overwhelming. However, after removing some of the pits with a small sharp knife, I decided to take a less tedious and a much quicker approach of partially cooking the cherries and removing the pits. My mother would always prepare the sugar syrup in advance and add it to the jam during the cooking process. However, since I had already pre-cooked the cherries I decided to add the sugar directly to the pot to avoid the jam being too runny. If you would like to use the traditional method of using the sugar syrup, add a cup of water to 2 cups of sugar in a small pot, bring to a boil on medium heat, stir to dissolve the sugar fully and simmer till it thickens.

Moraba-ye Zoghal Akhteh - Cornelian Cherry Jam


4 cups Cornelian cherries, picked over and washed
2 cups sugar, amount of sugar can be adjusted to your liking, (I prefer it on the tart side).
Juice of 1 lime
2 tablespoons rose water
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
4 cups water

  1. Place the cherries in a non-reactive heavy-bottomed pot. Add about 4 cups of water, bring to a rapid boil over medium-high heat. Reduce the heat and simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes. Don't leave the boiling jam unattended. Stir frequently and remove any foam if necessary.
  2. Place a mesh colander into a large glass bowl. Remove the pot from the heat and pour the content into the colander.
  3. Mash the cornelian cherries with a potato masher or put them through a food mill and remove the pits.
  4. Return strained liquid back into the pot, add juice of a lime, sugar, cardamom powder and bring to a boil on medium-high heat. Let the mixture boil for about 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Reduce the heat, add rose water, simmer on medium-low heat for 20-30 minuets or until it thickens.
  5. Remove from heat and allow to cool.
  6. Pour the jam into a clean glass jar and refrigerate.
  7. You can place the left-over pits, any flesh clinging to the pits and skin mixture into a small pot, add a cup of water, cover and bring to a boil on medium heat for 10-15 minutes to get the most of these cherries. Strain the mixture through a sieve and make a very tasty summer sharbat/sherbet.
Serve moraba-ye zoghal akhteh with butter or feta cheese and warm noon barbari or sangak.
~Divan-e Kabir-e Shams Tabrizi (The Great Divan of Shams-e Tabriz)
By~Molana Jalal Ad-din Rumi
I wish I could translate the above poem, "Man che Danam" (How do I know), but I'm afraid the result would be less than ideal and it wouldn't convey Rumi's message fully and would only be a watered-down version.


  1. thank you Sanam jan for bringing back memories of summer in Iran.
    Interesting that you share the Divan, right now I am reading the Massnavi of Rumi....infortunatly in french and not in persian.

  2. Yup, pitting is a pain! But so worth it if you get a fabulous GORGEOUS jam like this. What incredible color :)

  3. Akhey, my mouth is watering! I wish that they sold zoghal akhte in the stores too. Such a delicious fruit! I just visited the D.C. area last month and found a couple of trees by the Georgetown Waterfront. For any of your readers who live in the area, it was very close to "House of Sweden". I picked a handful and gobbled them up immediately. But I saved the pits so that I day I can plant them.

  4. Years ago, my grandmother was stopped by a police officer in NYC's Central Park for picking them from a tree. He asked what they were and my grandmother, not knowing what the English name was, explained they were "Djavadian Cherries," Djavad being her family name!

    1. Azita,

      Do you think cranberries can be substituted for zoghal akhteh? I am not sure where to find zoghal akhteh in the states. Cranberries do not have the pitting problem and are less labor intensive for making the jam.

  5. I remember Cornelian cherry jam from my childhood. The Bulgarian name of the fruits is “дренки / drenki”. Marmalades from cornels as well as rosehips were well known in the households. The tree (Cornus mas) is also an important part of the Bulgarian tradition. On the first day of the New Year, children decorate twigs of this tree and tapping with them grandparents, old-aged neighbours on their backs wishing them health, long life, and abundant harvest. This tree is one of the first that blooms, buds of this tree we put in the phillo pastry pie with eggs and cheese named “banitza” guessing about the future of those who take a piece of this pie. I mean, like Fortune cokies, but pie.
    Legend of unknown origin proclaims that the cross used to crucify Jesus was constructed of Cornelian tree.
    Best Regards!

  6. These photographs make me want to reach into my screen and taste the jam on the crackers. I love cherries and have never seen oval-shaped cherries before. Interesting and I wonder if they taste the same.

  7. Thank you Azita, for this exquisite recipe. Several years ago my daughter and I planted what we thought was a dogwood tree in my backyard. This year was uncommonly hot for longer than usual in Seattle and the tree covered itself with beautiful little red fruits. These fruits looked like no dogwood fruit I'd ever seen, so I researched and learned we had actually planted a Cornelian Cherry (actually a type of dogwood). Even better, my research turned up your recipe! Every weekend I was out checking, waiting for the fruit to ripen. Finally, this week the little fruits were ready to let go of their tree. They shook off into my apron just as you said they would. I followed your recipe exactly and now I'm cooling off eight small jars of the loveliest jam I've ever made. It is no wonder that so many love this tree. Thank you for sharing your recipes ... I'm happy to have found you and will be making many more! Next up for me: Fesenjoon and Yakh dar Behesht.

    1. DebO, Thank you so much for your kind words and I'm so happy to hear you're loving the recipe. Let me know how the other recipes turn out for you.

  8. I now want to plant one of these in my yard. Of all the species available, I wonder if I could get my hands on an "heirloom" type...such as the one that is most popular in Iran, Turkey, etc. since ancient times.

    Also, what kind of lovely cracker is that in the picture? I am a cracker fiend...

    Fantastic post! Thank you.

  9. Thanks for the recipe! I have two small cornelian cherry trees and my next door neighbor has one (and let's me have the fruit). This is the first year I've had enough fruit to make jam. I tried your recipe. Your story makes me want to find Iranians living in my town (Portland, Oregon) and share my Cornelian cherries.

  10. I just tried your recipe, and loved the end result! I taste tested while ladeling it into jars. I can't wait to see how it improves once the flavors have time to blend. I had 10 cups of raw fruit from my cornelian dogwood tree (the 'Pioneer' cultivar) and ended up with 11 half pints of jam. I altered it a little by adding an extra cup of sugar and the juice from an extra half a lime. I also boiled it for ~40 minutes rather than 20-30 as I like a really thick jam. Thank you for sharing your recipe!

  11. I just picked a large bowl full from my trees in my backyard. My house is the most popular house on the block for the few weeks that the tree is in fruit. This year it's specially full because of the moderate winter we had. Thanks for the recipe. I'm in the middle of making it and just searched for the recipe to make sure I'm doing it right. I'll add the lemon juice as instructed! Thanks

  12. Thank you so much for this recipe. I have two Cornelian cherry trees and they are ripe! I live in Ithaca, NY where Cornell University is located. I thought for the longest time the tree was named after someone at Cornell and my kids still call them Cornell cherries. Now I know they are all over the world. 😂They are lovely trees and line the block here and I am excited to try this jam recipe today!