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
- 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
- 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).
- 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.
- If canning, prepare canner, jars and lids. (I sterilized my jars in a 225 degree F oven).
- 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.
- Sweet cherries would be a nice option here; bump up the lemon juice, or try a little balsamic vinegar for added tang.
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Canned, in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year. Refrigerated for approximately 1 month.
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.