Today’s recipe for Sweet Cherry Jam comes from my sister, Ginger, who has some serious skills in the kitchen and with canning! Ginger and her husband Tom live in Colorado, and have access to great produce, visiting their farmers market regularly. I can’t wait till until their upcoming visit to the Gulf Coast (postponed from July 4th due to the Colorado Springs fires), as she said she has already tucked a jar away in her suitcase for me!
Sweet Cherry Jam
By: Ginger Sayor
As I sit here listening to the satisfying pop of a preserve successfully canned, I recall what brought me to a love of sweet cherries in the first place. As a woman of the West with Southern roots, I was more likely to be found popping a straw into a juicy Florida orange than eating a cherry. I didn’t want anything to do with cherries. Cherry was the flavor of dreaded medicines and nasty cough drops, not something to be savored.
But as the seasons brought the luscious bounty from Colorado’s Western slope to those of us on the Front Range, their sweet, happy, bright faces beckoned. I mean, they’re just so…red, and are everywhere around the 4th of July. You can’t miss them, right? How could I not try them? And of course I was hooked.
A growing love of fresh and locally sourced foods drew me to an exploration of canning. Eugenia Bone’s Well Preserved found me, and she has been my muse ever since. She understands the abundance of Western Colorado, and the joy of enjoying seasonal foods year round – no matter where you are located. Nominated for a James Beard award, her book offers sound advice –even for a beginning canner, and exceptional recipes that make you feel like you’ve somehow magically transformed yourself into an award-winning chef.
So on to the cherries. Before we get started, I feel compelled, as so many before me, to tell you about the utterly enchanting and indispensable cherry pitter.
Don’t have one? Get one. Now. Fancy or plain, you can pick them up most anywhere. They can be shy and hiding when you’re prowling BB&Beyond, Williams Sonoma or the local grocery store. But keep searching … your kitchen needs one, and it will be invaluable in your kitchen – both for cherries and olives.
For the recipe, I investigated several blogs and recipes. This one is influenced by the Cilantropist’s simplicity, David Liebowitz’s disinclination to measure, and my own hard-won experience of canning at altitude. Most foodists out there tend not to mention canning, and that jams will keep for up to a month in a refrigerator. This is fine …I simply choose to stretch the experience of sweet cherries year round with canning.
Sweet (but not too sweet) Cherry Preserves
Yield: About #8, 8 oz. jars
What you’ll need:
- Large canning pot, rack, tongs, magnet lid holder, funnel
- #8 – eight oz. jars and lids
- About 2 pounds of sweet cherries
- 1 ½ cups brown sugar
- 1 ½ cups of white cane sugar
- 2-3 lemons
- 2 tsp. kirschwasser or Pama pomegranate liquor
- 1 tsp. butter
- ceramic plate
Prep the canning. You’ll be glad you did. [canning ingredients, Ball pot]
Fill the pot about ¾ full with water. Bring to a simmer; add the jars and rings. Leave the heat on low. It will start to boil while you’re working on the recipe, and that’s ok. You can’t over-sterilize the jars. In a separate, small saucepan, simmer the lids on low to soften the rings.
While you’re at it, place your ceramic plate into the freezer, for testing the mixture later.
Once you’ve got that going, start on the jam.
So you think you can pit?
- Pit the cherries
Set up a work space to capture pits and pitted cherries. Wash the cherries, and start pitting. It looks intuitive, right? Simply place the cherry in the pitter, and push that little pit out. BUT, it’s not always that easy! Here’s a trick to help you get that pit: Line the stem at the bottom of the pitter. Bottoms up – and push. The pit will be removed with the stem intact, more often than not.
- Rough-chop the cherries
If you like a smoother jam, finely chop the cherries. If you like those big, smearable, smooshy ones once in a while, leave a few of the pitted cherries whole. Either way, you’re going to be surprised at how many pits you missed while pitting.
- Cook the cherries
Place the chopped cherries into a Dutch/ French oven.
Add the zest of 1-2 lemons, and the juice of 2-3 lemons. Cook the cherries on low to medium heat for about 30 – 35 minutes at altitude. If you live at sea level, try 20-25 minutes. Mash the cherries with your stirring spoon once in a while, or with a potato ricer. [ricer picture] The mixture will slightly thicken as a result of the added pectin from the lemons.
Too much foam? Try this tip I picked up from Eugenia Bone: add ½ tsp. unsalted butter to the mixture to settle the foaming.
Wait – was that a pit? Yes, it probably is. Put on your inspector’s cape and sleuth the mixture for more pits that may be lurking about. No-one wants to bite into a pit.
- Add the sugars
Add the cane sugar and brown sugar to the cherry mixture. Cook for an additional 10-15 minutes at altitude, 5-7 minutes if not. Your mixture should start to thicken slightly.
- Test the mixture
If your mixture starts to coat the back of your stirring spoon, go ahead and test it. Most people will recommend the ceramic plate method for testing. Remember your ceramic plate in the freezer? Place a small amount of the cherry mixture on the chilled plate. Leave it for a few minutes. If the mixture stays in-place and starts to wrinkle when you push it with a finger, it’s probably done. If not, cook it for a few minutes more.
If you’re unsure of the plate method, you can always temp the mixture. Most foodists will recommend taking it to the soft ball stage at around 234 degrees Farenheit. At altitude, I find that’s way too long to cook a jam mixture. I’ll usually pull it around 206-210 degrees.
Remove the mixture from heat and add the liquors, if desired. Let cool slightly.
- Can and process
You’re so ready for this! Set up a canning area on your counter with a place for your jam mixture, lids and jars. Pull the sterilized jars and screw tops from the canning pot with the canning tongs. I often find it easier to use a set of long handled tongs to aid in the process, so I don’t burn my hands. Put the jars on a dishcloth-lined cookie sheet to transport them to the counter.
Ladle the mixture into your sterilized jars, leaving ½”- ¾” headroom. Use the magnetized lid holder to grab a lid for your jar. Try not to touch it on the sides because, well, you just sterilized it. Place the lid on the jar. Add the screw top and hand tighten – not too tight. Place the jars in the canning rack.
Ready for the bath:
Carefully transport the jars to the simmering canning pot. Lower the rack, and process for 10-15 minutes.
Pull the jars from heat, and transport them to a cool place in your kitchen where they can rest undisturbed for about 7-8 hours or overnight.
Your sweet cherry jam will keep for up to 1 year in a cool, dark pantry. Be sure to put a jar in the refrigerator after they settle – because you know you want to try it tomorrow morning.
I was delighted to find that the Cilantrist recommends simply enjoying this luscious, sweet jam with a loaf of French bread and a ring of goat cheese. You can’t go wrong with her recommendation of Cypress Grove goat cheeses. Being a bit of a “homer,” I also suggest Haystack Mountain’s Queso de Mano or Haystack Peak, ripened here in Longmont, Colorado, outside of Boulder. Or, simply enjoy your yummy, fresh jam with unsalted butter on an English muffin or scone, or on vanilla bean ice cream with blueberries for a wonderful summer treat.