Cherry season is upon us, coming and going fast & furious like nearly every other fruit in the short Northeast summer. And while cherries did not fare well in the Hudson Valley this year (again!), due to a warmer-than-seasonal March, followed by freezing temps and lots of rain in April, there are some out there to be found. Belltown Orchards in Glastonbury, CT is open for you-pick of both sweet & sour cherries (assuming they still have some left); I’ve seen sweet cherries at my local farmer’s market, in small quantities, perfect for snacking; and Fix Brothers in Hudson, NY opens for English Morello picking on July 4th!
Assuming you do get your hands on some, and they survive the initial fresh-cherry-gorge that must accompany the start of the season, these chipotle cherries are one preserve to add to your list. Sweet, smoky, undeniably sexy: you could make this, and only this, and people will rave about your preservation prowess for years to come. I used my gifted bottle of ginjinha to bump up both the amount of liquid and the cherry flavor in the preserve; given that ginjinha may be impossible to find (unless you happen to be living in Portugal), I think a ruby port or a deep, berry-cherry red wine, even a sweet red dessert wine, would work well as a substitute. I also used whole, dried chipotle peppers; I think that ground chipotle would muddy the waters, so to speak, compromising the bright, nuanced flavor of the preserve and the gorgeous deep purple color. Try to source whole peppers if you can (I’m still using a batch from Penzey’s, but have heard raves about Tierra Vegetables for sourcing good quality chiles).
This is a soft-set preserve: the cherries stay whole, although nicely wilted and soft, and the surrounding jelly is just-barely set, and slowly spreads itself over whatever you drape it on. It’s wonderful on plain toast, or sneaked by the fingerful straight from the jar, but spooned over fresh chèvre on crusty sourdough bread, with fresh herbs from the garden? Heaven.
- 2 lbs sweet cherries
- 1 and 1/2 cups (12 oz) raw sugar (organic turbinado)
- 1/2 cup cherry liqueur (I used ginjinha), port or red wine
- 3 dried chipotle peppers, stemmed
- 1 cup apple pectin
- Wash, stem and pit the cherries. In a large bowl, combine cherries with sugar, liqueur and chipotle peppers, tossing well. Allow to macerate at room temperature for several hours, or refrigerated overnight.
- Add pectin, mix well, and taste syrup. Adjust sugar if necessary: add a touch of lemon juice for added tartness. If syrup is nicely smoky with chipotle flavor, remove chipotle peppers; if you’d like additional chipotle flavor, leave peppers in while cooking preserves. Save cherry-soaked chipotles to mince and add to a simple vinaigrette.
- Prepare canner, jars and lids.
- Transfer cherry & syrup mixture to a large, heavy, wide preserving pan or a high-sided skillet. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat and continue to boil hard, stirring only minimally, until syrup reaches the set point, 220 degrees F on an accurate thermometer (or syrup passes the wrinkle test on a frozen plate), about 15 minutes. Cook for 1 minute at the set point, then remove from heat and ladle hot preserves into hot jars to 1/2-inch. Wipe rims, affix lids and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
Yields about 2 and 1/2 cups.
- If you don’t have, or want to make, apple pectin, you could try substituting frozen concentrated apple juice or apple jelly, or consider Pomona’s or Ball Flex-Batch pectin.
- Ginjinha is a Portuguese cherry liqueur: you need some sort of liquid in order to yield enough syrup with the low amount of sugar, but it does not have to be alcoholic; you could try apple juice or cherry juice if you can find it. Since the ginjinha or other alcohol is added before the cooking stage, any ethanol will be cooked off prior to jarring the preserve.
- This is a small batch that could easily be doubled; however, if so, do make sure that you use a very wide pan in order to reach the set point as quickly as possible. Believe me when I say you’ll want more than the initial 2 and 1/2 cups: in fact, I’ve already made another batch!
Canned, store in a cool, dark spot for up to 1 year.