Our local organic orchard grows about a dozen types of cherries that all ripen at once, typically around Fathers’ Day. It’s shocking that over 300 cherry trees laden with thousands of pounds of fruit can be picked out over one weekend, but it’s true. Blink and you miss it, as I have many times. As consolation for a reunion that I missed because of a last minute business trip, I made sure that I picked cherries this year. Oh, of course, there are other opportunities to get cherries and you can always buy the fruit, but there’s nothing like a peaceful morning in the orchard with such beauteous bounty. (Other than the hoards of greedy pickers whom I avoided.)
I picked a variety of cherries for eating – Heidelfigen, Rainiers, Hartland, Ulster, Chelan – and a couple of pounds of tart Montmorency cherries for cooking. Light red in color and very sour raw, I thought these would make a lovely sour cherry jam. While I’ve recently canned cherries in wine and port, and preserved them in brandy and kirsch, I haven’t made cherry jam in the last few years.
The Montmorency variety is fragile, soft, juicy. I wasn’t sure how much sugar to add for jam so I cooked the cherries and measured them before adding sweetener. (Usually, I would macerate the fruit in the sugar.) After a second round of cooking with the sugar, the cherries were set aside to let the fruit plump. I had a motive for letting them sit: developing pectin from the addition of lemon peel, lemon seeds and the inner portions of the cherry pits, which I placed in a muslin bag. This technique has worked for me before, so I thought I’d give it a try. As a fallback, I knew I had canned pectin that I made from green apples last summer. I didn’t need them though since the jam set up beautifully.
Sour Cherry Jam
2 lbs sour cherries, pitted (yielding about 4 cups)
24 cherry pits
Sugar (around 1½ c, to be measured)
Reserve about a cup of whole cherries and coarsely chop the rest. Pour into a large saucepan.
Place about 24 cherry pits between the folds of a dish towel and smash them lightly with a hammer so that the hard shell can be peeled off and the inner “nut’ revealed. Remove kernels, which should measure about 1–1½ tsp. Peel the lemon, leaving the pith intact. Juice the lemon, reserving the seeds. Place the cherry pit kernels, lemon peel and seeds in a small muslin bag. Add the lemon juice and the muslin bag to the cherries.
Bring the cherries to a boil and cook for about 5 minutes or until the cherry flesh is completely soft. Depending on the type of cherries used, the cooking time could vary widely.
Remove the muslin bag and pour the cherries and their liquid into a large measuring cup. (I got 2 cups.) Add ¾ of that amount (for me 1 ½ c) of sugar and return the mixture, including the muslin sack, to the saucepan. Bring to a boil and cooking, stirring to dissolve the sugar, for about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat, pour into the measuring cup, cover with parchment paper (love that trick from Christine Ferber), and, once cooled, let sit for 6 hours or overnight in the refrigerator.
Prepare jars and lids for water bath canning. Place a saucer in the freezer for testing the gel. Bring the cherry mixture to a boil and continue to cook until gelled (mine set in about 7 minutes, and was just shy of 221 degrees in temperature. Set aside for a few minutes until the foam subsides. Remove the muslin bag and skim the foam. Pour into prepared jars and process in a water bath canner for 10 minutes after the water boils. Turn off the heat, remove the canner lid and let sit for 5 minutes before removing to a counter to cool undisturbed.
Makes at least two 8-oz jars or four 4-oz jars depending on the ripeness (water content) of the cherries.