Smoky Chipotle Cherries

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.

Smoky Chipotle Cherries


  • 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


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Prepare canner, jars and lids.
  4. 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.


Early summer.


    • I’ve never seen it in the States, honestly: but I haven’t looked that hard. In Portugal at least, quality varies wildly, from boozy Cherry Vicks to a really fine, berry-forward ruby port. I think a good port is probably your best bet; but keep your eyes peeled in Portuguese neighborhoods – you never know!

    • I honestly don’t have much experience with kirsch, but I am thinking it is on the sweeter side: like a schnapps? Ginjinha is really rich and somewhat tannic, closest to a deep ruby port, I think. But, hey: try it out with kirsch – how bad can it be? 🙂 You might try less sugar though, maybe start with 1 cup and go from there.

  1. EL

    I know this is supposed to be local, but this sounds like the jam (preserve?) version of Lindt chili cherry bars (which they don’t make anymore). Yum! How about on ice cream with chocolate sauce for a special treat (kinda like Lindt). I am now a preserve convert. . .

  2. EL

    Try this site for Ginginha , then search using the term ginja. But it isn’t local. Here in Montana a lot of local cherry wine is made, so I will try that. . .

  3. Just an FYI: If you see a bazillion hits on this post, it’s me. I have been daydreaming about making this all day since Marissa shared it on her Food in Jars facebook page and I can’t stop visiting to drool a little bit. Today on my lunch break, I bought something called Cherry Kijafa (cherry wine) to use as the liquor. And I even bought a cherry stoner this afternoon. I’ll report back in a couple of days!

  4. Ann

    This turned out fantastic! I used pomonas (maiden voyage I might add) and followed the sweet cherry directions. A little firmer than I was expecting so less pectin next time. Bring on the fresh goat cheese!

  5. Ann

    I just read Julia’s post on the homemade ginjinha. I was sooo focused on had to get my hands on this stuff called ginjinha ( probably should have googled it… just sayin) that we drove 30 miles to town (yes 30 miles) to the Big liquer store. At which I purchased a lovely bottle of Herrings cherry liqeuer. ($30 I might add!) Then home again again jiggity jig, only to discover after I uncorked the bottle, that I ALREADY HAD THIS! I made cherry cordial last year!! LOL
    cherry cordial
    2 cups ripe cherries
    1 cup sugar
    Inexpensive vodka
    add cherries and sugar to a quart jar cover with vodka. Cap. Shake well. Forget about it for a bit.

  6. I made these this weekend using a Port we had on hand. I was amazed at the smoky flavor that came through while cooking (I kept the peppers in while cooking). We haven’t tasted them, yet, but plan to soon. Also made the cherry-soaked chipotle vinaigrette for a leftover bbq salad. It was perfect!

    • We ended up short of snacks at a get together right after I made this. We had cream cheese and crackers on hand. Putting them together with a sweet/smoky preserve like these wasn’t original, but it was quite tasty. It heartily impressed our guests. “You made this?!” they’d gasp. 🙂 Thank you so much!

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  8. Betsy

    I have been salivating over this for days. I used pomegranate liquor (Pama brand) since I don’t have ginjinha handy and I never know WTF to do with that stuff anyway. It tastes great! I also didn’t have apple pectin so I used Pomona and reduced the amounts as per Ann’s suggestion above. It’s still much firmer than yours, but that didn’t stop me from glopping some atop some chocolate ice cream and enjoying it!

  9. Jodi

    I made this today. I soaked the cherries and chilies together overnight, and my only regret is that I didn’t leave the chipotles in while it cooked. It tasted plenty smoky before boiling, so I yanked them, but the smoke flavor must have volatilized in the cooking process because the finished product has nary a trace of it. It’s still very tasty, but next time I won’t be fainthearted about the smokiness,and the chilies will stay in until I fill the jars.

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  11. kcm

    I made tried this recipe and it was delicious. However, I’m new to canning and I am afraid this recipe is unsafe because there is no added acidity (lemon juice) to it. Can anyone tell me if this is safe? thanks.

    • Hi kcm,

      Thanks for your question: I applaud your dedication in determining that the recipe is safe.

      While most fruit jam/preserve recipes contain some lemon juice, often this is to boost flavor and/or aid in the set rather than strictly necessary for acidity (as it is when canning tomatoes, for instance). Cherries are already naturally below the safe pH for water bath canning (4.6), with a reported pH range, depending on variety, of 3.3 – 4.5:

      In addition, the cherry liqueur and apple pectin will add additional acidity, meaning that the pH of the final preserve will be well below the safe 4.6 cut-off.

      If you are ever concerned, however, you can safely add lemon juice to any canning recipe, although you may affect taste and set. If you prefer, try adding 2 – 4 tbsp of lemon juice to this cherry preserve, with an equal amount of extra sugar, and see how you like it.

    • I haven’t but I *do* have cherries in the freezer… hmm. I would say it would work fine; texture might suffer slightly, but in general I find that cherries freeze well, almost as well as blueberries. You might try a half-batch, with just 1 lb of cherries, and see how it goes: I’m sure, even if the texture isn’t ideal, that you’ll manage to find a use for it! 🙂

  12. Schnookie

    I had to come back to this post to thank you a million times over for this recipe. This is proving to be BY FAR the best thing I canned in a summer of excessive (perhaps deeply-overboard) canning. So far I’ve used them straight-up, accompanying cheese and crackers; in a pan sauce for pork chops; rolled in a stuffed turkey breast with goat cheese; stirred into a hot fudge sundae topping; and chopped and baked into chocolate cupcakes. There is nothing that is not improved by the addition of chipotle cherries. This may very well end up being the only thing I can next summer. 🙂

    • Aren’t they amazing? I usually try to attempt just a wee bit of modesty but for these, I’ll just flat out say it: I knocked the Ball jar out of the park on this one. 🙂 And I agree – I’m making way, WAY more of them this summer! So glad you are digging them too. (And I’m gonna get on that hot fudge sundae topping soon….)

  13. Gena

    This looks lovely for the approaching Midwest cherry season. Could I substitute commercial pectin, and if so, what quantity?

    • In all honesty, I think commercial pectin would make the final preserve far too firm, unless you are familiar with using Pomona’s or Ball Flex-Batch to achieve a nice loose set. As I note above, frozen concentrated apple juice, or an 8-oz jar of apple jelly, would be a better bet. Or, you could simply macerate cherries with a full apple, sliced in half, and see how that goes: might give you enough of a pectin boost to achieve a set, provided that your cherries are not *super* ripe when you jam them.

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  19. Tiffany

    For anyone else who is using commercial pectin: I used 1T of Ball brand classic pectin. It’s too firm .. . but still delicious!

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