Sour Cherry & Almond Preserves

I got up at 6:30 am on Tuesday morning, when it was a mere 84 degrees outside, in order to make cherry preserves before the thermometer hit triple digits again.  Why, you ask, am I making jam during a heat wave?  Is it self-reliance or self-flaggelation? Is it a New England Yankee refusal-to-let-adversity-bring-me-down attitude or a belligerent New Yorker screw-you-weather-you’re-not-the-boss-of-me?  Is it so that I can don my holier-than-thou, local-organic-sustainable hairshirt and proudly proclaim “I made jam during the Great Heatwave of 2010″? Nay, nien, and no, say I. So why am I making jam in a heatwave?  In this instance, cherries are like the mountain – because they were there.

I love cherries.  I love sweet cherries raw, straight from the tree; I could happily eat a pound a day for… well, ever. Last year Tai & I picked 40 pounds of sweet cherries at Fishkill Farms, and I fell in love with all sorts of ways to preserve them. Sadly this year, Fishkill lost their entire cherry crop to a severe Spring frost. In addition, the unseasonably hot weather and my month-of-June trip to South Africa have conspired against my cherry-pickin’ dreams: not only is the season pretty much over in my ‘hood, I can’t find a single organic/sustainble cherry orchard (other than Fishkill) within 2 hours of my house (if you know of one in the Hudson Valley or Berkshires, please, please let me know!).  So, the long & the short of it is, when I saw one lonely quart of sour cherries sitting all by itself at the Muscoot Farms market last Sunday, I had to have it. And given that it is late, late, late in the cherry season and they had been sitting out in the 100-degree heat, I knew I had to do something with them pronto. When life (or the farmer’s market) gives you cherries, make cherry preserves.

For inspiration, I went back to La Ferber (I know, I know – when will she learn?).  The texture on this one did not come out quite how I wanted it to; I was shooting for a fluid, pourable preserve, similar to the last cherry recipe, with a thick syrup yet viable whole cherries. There was not enough syrup to go around and, though my thermometer was reading over 220 degrees F, the syrup is still a little thin and lacking in structure.  I should have trusted my instincts and cooked it a bit longer; but really, I am descended of Northern peoples. My brain doesn’t function so well over 80 degrees.  At any rate, the taste more than makes up for any deificiencies in texture – the flavor is outstanding and I actually quite like the chewy, almost-dried-cherry texture of the whole sour cherries.  All in all, totally worth the early morning standing-over-the-jam-pot-in-the-heat.  I will be savoring this preserve bit by lovely bit until it runs out and I have nothing but cherry dreams to sustain me until next year.

Adapted from Morello Cherry and Almond in Mes Confitures by Christine Ferber

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Sour Cherry & Almond Preserves

INGREDIENTS

  • 1 quart sour cherries, washed, stemmed and pitted (1 and 1/4 lb pitted; reserve pits)
  • juice of 1 lemon (1/4 cup)
  • 1 cup sugar (organic turbinado)
  • pinch sea salt
  • 1/2 can of frozen apple juice concentrate (6.5 oz), thawed
  • 3/4 cup sliced almonds

METHODS

  1. Day 1. Combine pitted cherries, lemon juice, salt and sugar in a medium glass or ceramic bowl. Reserve pits in a small Ziploc in the fridge. Allow cherries to macerate at room temperature for 1 hour, then transfer to a large saucepan and bring to a simmer over high heat. (Heat wave edition: Alternatively, heat on high in the microwave for about 5 minutes, watching carefully to make sure it does not foam over).  Return to bowl and refrigerate, covered, overnight (I actually macerated for 2 days before making the preserves).
  2. Day 2. Transfer cherries & juice to a sieve and drain all juice. Lightly crush cherry pits (a meat tenderizer or wine bottle works well) and place in a small square of muslin or cheesecloth, or use a stainless steel tea strainer. Remove apple juice concentrate from freezer to thaw.
  3. If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids. (I sterilized my jars in a 225 degree F oven).
  4. Add cherry juice, apple juice concentrate and cherry pit bag to a medium stockpot and bring to a boil over high heat. Boil over high heat, stirring occassionally, until syrup thickens slightly and the temperature reaches 220 degrees F, about 5 minutes.  Add cherries and bring back to a boil. Continue to cook over high heat, stirring gently, until the bubbles get large, the jam spits when stirred and/or the temperature reaches 220 degrees F. Remove cherry pit bag (squeeze out excess juice), add almonds, stir and bring back to a boil. Heat through for 1 minute, then fill hot jars to 1/2-inch headspace. Remove air bubbles and adjust syrup level so that fruit is just covered with syrup. Wipe rims, affix lids, and if desired, process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes (for this small batch, I skipped the water-bath and simply allowed the hot jars to seal at room temperature; 100 degree-weather preserving!).

Yields about 2 and1/2 cups.

OPTIONS

  1. Sweet cherries would be a nice option here; bump up the lemon juice, or try a little balsamic vinegar for added tang. 
  2.  There was limited syrup in this recipe, even with the added apple juice, so a juicier cherry may produce a better level of syrup. Alternatively, crush and juice a cup or so of sour cherries and add only the juice to this recipe (reserve the pulp for a quick & easy compote over ice cream).
  3. As noted above, the texture of the syrup was a bit thin; a longer cooking time or additional pectin should help to thicken it up.
  4. I added nearly a full cup of sliced almonds to my recipe, which was too much; I think 3/4 cup will be just right.
  5. Ferber’s original recipe called for: 2 and 1/4 lb (net) pitted Morello cherries (similar to Balaton, a Michigan morello varietal), 3 and 3/4 cups sugar, juice of 1 lemon, 7 oz green apple jelly, and 1 and 3/4 cups slivered almonds.

STORE

Canned, in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.  Refrigerated for approximately 1 month.

SEASON

Cherries are in season in the Northeast in late June/early July. The warm weather this year caused the cherry season to begin & end about 2 weeks earlier than normal.

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6 comments

  1. dang it! i just pickled our CSA sour cherries last night (bad idea when it is 87 degrees outside and 96 degrees in your apt. at 10 pm!)
    I should have waited one more day because this sounds delicious (and looks beautiful!) and more importantly the temperature in our apt is finally lower then that of outside!

  2. Yum! My cherries are still sitting in the freezer waiting for jam time, but that hasn’t stopped me from jamming all week with blueberries. I went to Montreal and made sure to pick cherries before the vaca in order to not miss the cherry bandwagon as it whizzed by.

    I do my jamming at night though. It has been soo hot! This is when I love my northern exposure kitchen.

    I haven’t been, but Stone Ridge Orchard practices sustainable farming and has cherry trees. You may want to try them next year.

  3. I’ve heard conflicting reports about Stone Ridge; I used to check the blog of the guy who farmed there (it is rented I believe) and he was the one into sustainable practices, but I know he left. It’s under new management and I’m not sure they are farming sustainably – it is worth checking out, but I just haven’t made it yet.

    I’ve been jamming either early morning or late night also; but we live in a one-room cottage. It’s the same temp everywhere, so I’m trying to limit firing up the canner. My darling husband went blueberry picking today, so I’ll be checking out your site for some inpsiration!

    Regina- I’ve got pickles fermenting in the garage that I am *hoping* will be OK. They’ve been in there all during this last week of hot temps. Fingers crossed!

  4. The heat has really been amazing. I’ve never used nuts in preserving, I am worried about the safety, but do you have any new info for me? We missed the sour cherry time around here – it came and went in just a week!

  5. There are nuts in several of the Ball Book recipes (conserves), which I consider my touchstone for over-the-top safety.

    I used to worry about varying any amounts, but I think it was Tigress who pointed out to me that nuts are already dried, so they shouldn’t be a problem, botulism-wise. Since they are dried, I don’t think they contribute to the overall acidity in a recipe, so a fruit jam with nuts is essentially the same acidity as the fruit jam alone.

  6. i feel like i am missing fruit-jamming season! i haven’t been jamming since the strawberries! :( i have been searching everywhere for organic cherries, but nada! and my blueberries aren’t blue yet. i am on a mission to get some raspberries or blackberries this year – organic. while there is still time!

    i know what you mean about your pickles in the garage – i have a bunch of cabbage fermenting in the cellar – which isn’t that cool. hoping is a good way to put it…

    this preserve looks amazing. i have never jammed cherries and i think i really need to!

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