Several years ago, I was in France during the height of cherry season. The farmers markets we visited in small towns in Provence all had tables heaped high with beautiful cherries.
Of course, we ate as many as possible and tucked them into bread puddings for dessert, but I yearned for my big copper jam pot and dehydrator.
Now, at home, I make the most of cherry season with the recipes below.
Ingredients for all:
• Fresh cherries
• About 1 cup of inexpensive vodka or brandy
• Cane sugar
• Cherry pitter
• Zipper freezer bags
• Jam pot
• Canning jars and utensils
• Waterbath canner with rack
Cherries are my favorite fruit, both to eat fresh and to work with. When the best cherries appear in the market, I buy several pounds to preserve. With cherries dehydrated, preserved, glaceed and a cordial made, I have bounty to use all year long.
After eating my fill, dressed in a ragged old shirt, I arm myself with my cherry pitter. I spread an old towel on the table and put down a small bowl and a large bowl.
First, wash and drain the cherries, pull the stems off and then pit all the cherries, reserving the pits.
A Note on Cherry Pitters
For years, I’ve used a single cherry pitter and that worked fine, although it does splash cherry juice all over.
Recently, I bought a gadget that pits 6 cherries at once. It doesn’t splash much at all and really does speed up the task of pitting several pounds — 6 pounds pitted in just over an hour, working leisurely.
I saw it this week in Walmart and it’s also available from Amazon for about $11 and ships free.
How to Use Cherry Pits
Don’t throw out those pits! Pour your small bowl of pits, tiny fruit tags from the pitter, and any juice in the pit bowl into a jar (the pits from 6 pounds cherries will fit into a pint jar).
Fill the jar with vodka or brandy to cover the pits. Set the jar in the cupboard and forget about it until you need a bit of Kirsch or Amaretto for a recipe.
It’s delicious in cheese fondue, compotes, sauces, and many fruit desserts, most especially bread puddings. Be sure to save the Cherry Preserve Recipe for next year when you’ll add some of this cordial at the very end.
How to Dehydrate Cherries
Cherries don’t freeze well — freezing fresh makes them release a lot of juice, so they’re limp and swimming in juice. Better to dehydrate, so lots of cherries go on the dehydrator.
On my Nesco dehydrator, at 135 degrees, the cherries take 9 hours. Yours may be different, so keep on eye on them. Be careful not to over-dry — the cherries should still be moist, like raisins or prunes.
Because I leave in moisture, I store dehydrated cherries in the freezer. These are used in fruit breads and muffins, added to other fruits in a pie, puddings, and just for munching for a healthy sweet.
Always, when you take fruits or veggies off the dehydrator, put them in a storage container and leave them out on the counter overnight to “homogenize”. There’s always some drier, some moister, but left out, they become more the same.
Fresh Cherry Preserves Recipe
Use this confit for a sauce for ice cream, to add to a bread pudding, to stir into plain yogurt or spread on toast or biscuits. This method makes a delicious, fresh-tasting preserve with no commercial pectin and very low sugar. The recipe is easily doubled. Makes 4 half-pint jars
• 2 pounds fresh cherries, pitted and left whole
• 1 ½ cups cane sugar
• Optional: 2 Tbsp of the Cherry Pit Cordial from last year
1. Have your jars impeccably clean. I wash them in hot soapy water and then run them through the dishwasher.
2. In your jam pot, add the sugar to the cherries and stir well. The cherries will begin to juice out. Wait a few minutes and then heat gently, stirring and careful not to scorch until the cherries have released quite of bit of juice.
3. Turn off the heat and let the cherries sit for a couple hours, then heat, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved and the cherries are swimming in syrup. Cook the mixture at a gentle simmer for 15 minutes, then pour the mixture into a bowl, cover and let it sit overnight. A few of the cherries will break up, but most will remain whole.
4. In the morning, the mixture will be quite liquid. Pour it through a colander into your jam pot, and let it drip into the pot for awhile, pressing down gently, keeping the cherries in the colander. Move the colander over the bowl in case they drip a little more.
5. Bring the syrup to a boil and cook it down until quite reduced and a thermometer reads 220 degrees Fahrenheit. Add the cherries back into the syrup and bring back to 220 degrees. If you have the Cherry Pit Cordial, add it now and stir in.
6. While the preserve reheats, fill your hot water bath with hot water and bring to a boil. Always have a rack in the waterbath — if you put the jars directly on the bottom of the pot, they can break. What a loss and a mess! To sterilize the jars, dip each for a few seconds in the boiling water, place them upside down on a clean towel or paper towels. Also dip your ladle and canning funnel.
7. When the jam is ready, at 220 degrees and is thick, turn off the heat. Stir and skim off any foam for 5 minutes. Stirring like this helps to prevent fruit floating. Now, ladle the hot jam into jars, either ½-pint or pint, and seal with new 2-piece lids, and process for 10 minutes in the boiling waterbath.
8. Remove the jars to a clean towel, leaving space between them. When cool, store your jam in a cool, dry place.
To make chocolate-cherry sauce for ice cream, put some preserve into a bowl, add some dark chocolate syrup and a splash of the cherry cordial you made with the pits.
One last trick: When the processing time is up and the jars are removed to a clean towel, I pour the very hot water into my empty jam pot where I’ve left the ladle and funnel and that effectively washes it. One quick rinse and done.
Watch this page for more cherry recipes, including making your own glaceed cherries.
Wendy Akinis happy to share her years of traditional skills knowledge. Over the years, she’s earned many state fair ribbons for pickles, relishes, preserves and special condiments, and even a few for breads. Read all of Wendy’s MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.
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