Cooking, Home

a sour cherry saga

all canned up!

Six jars of homemade sour cherry jam, gleaming in the morning sun. So photogenic, so appealing, so……hard to come by!

Let’s start at the very beginning….. Over the 4th of July weekend, my sister-in-law Alex and I got bees in our bonnets about cooking with sour cherries. More specifically, we decided that we wanted to can some sour cherry jam. (To go back even further, if you’ll permit the digression, Alex and I learned how to can from my mom over last year’s 4th of July holiday. Clearly, there’s something about this particular holiday and wanting to preserve fruit….anyway, Alex is a canning superstar – she made more than 100 jars of strawberry jam last summer as the favor for guests to take home from her wedding!) We wanted sour cherries in particular because their flavor is more pronounced, more “cherry” if you will.

Thinking that said cherries would be soooo easy to come by in the Western New York bounty of farmers’ markets and Wegmans, we sped over to the closest farmer’s market after confirming that they had sour cherries in stock. What they didn’t tell us was that they only had 3 pints in stock! We were going to need a lot more than that, since both of us were itching to can our own stash.

After countless phone calls to every conceivable market in the area, we discovered that no one had more sour cherries in stock, not even the venerable Wegmans. So my plans for canning abandoned, I returned home to NYC after a still-great holiday weekend (you know about that already – you saw the pictures).

On my first afternoon home, I went to the local “natural” supermarket. As soon as I walked in the door, I nearly fainted. In front of me was 60 pints of sour cherries, with even more underneath the display.

sour cherry bounty!

(Ignore the price – it’s NYC, remember….)

Once I recovered from discovering the world’s largest stash of sour cherries, I grabbed up 4 pounds and ran home to check on my canning supplies. I was in luck – just enough fresh jars and lids to can the whole lot! Even luckier, I had bought some no-sugar pectin while I was upstate just in case the canning urge ever hit me (You can not get pectin in NYC. I’ve tried. You can’t.)

What you won’t see a picture of in this post is the 90-minute pitting slog that I had to go through before I could even dream of canning my jam. Luckily, my mom had shared her should-be-patented method for pitting the tiny sour cherries: use the short end of a paper clip to puncture the cherry and pull up the pit. It’s a messy and surprisingly strenuous task, but no pain, no gain.

I chose the no-sugar pectin simply for experimental purposes. With the recipe in hand, I set about preparing my kitchen for the entire canning process. The most important thing I learned from my mom when canning, and especially when you’re working in a small apartment kitchen, is: be prepared. Get all of your pots, pans, jars, lids, funnels, towels, spoons, whisks, water baths, etc. lined up and ready to go, because once the jam is ready to be decanted into jars, you have to work quickly and steadily. Add into that equation that you’re working with lots of boiling sugar, and you really have to be organized to prevent any untoward accidents.

initial stovetop setup

all the tools of the trade

So like a good student, I got all of my implements out and was ready to can like a champ.

jam and pectin boiling away

The first thing that I realized (and naturally, I realized this too late) is that the pot I chose to prepare the jam in was too small. How do I know? Because I spent the next morning chipping the excess spilled jam off the cooktop surface. But since that ship had already sailed, I had to whisk carefully and hope for the best.

cooking setup

The next thing that I realized too late was that my jam pot was on the wrong burner – it was taking forever to heat up sufficiently, so I switched its place, mid-cooking, with the simmering can/lid pan in a maneuver that I can only describe as kitchen acrobatics. Don’t try that at home, kids.

jam all cooked down

Finally, the fruit/pectin/sugar mixture had reached all of the right boiling stages and it was ready to can. Of course I couldn’t find my regular big canning funnel to help channel the boiling liquid into the sterilized jars, so I had to give up on that puny blue funnel and wing it with a big ladle and a steady hand.

carefully canning

Did you know that you need to carefully wipe the top lip and the threads of the jar with a clean towel after filling it to ensure a good seal during the water bath process? Kudos to Mom for another priceless tip there!

boiling away in the water bath

Now here’s the part I fear the most – dropping the filled jars one by one into the boiling water of the water bath and then lowering them into the water completely to “process” them (e.g., make them shelf-stable and sterilized). Since I was home alone and unable to call on my more level-headed husband to do the dirty work, I had to give myself a little pep talk at this point. The edited version went something like this: “oh for pete’s sake, drop the &*#$&*(#$ things in there and get on with it already!”

I survived, and my courage was duly rewarded – nothing is as gratifying as the distinct “cluck”/”thud”/”boing” of each jar as it seals after its water bath. And boy oh boy, these jars did not disappoint – you could’ve heard their metallic symphony from the bedroom. What you saw at the beginning of the post was my yield – six 8-oz. jars of the tangiest, rubied cherry jam I’ve ever had. If you’ve never had sour cherry jam, it puts commercial jams to shame! I’ve already sent a couple of the jars to good homes in the clutches of my mom and Alex, and I’ve started slathering the rest all over my morning yogurt. Behold:

best. breakfast. ever

With a little homemade granola on the side, I’m in sugary carb breakfast heaven (in the words of my goddess, Nigella, “don’t say you wouldn’t.”)

So that was a long-winded tale; I definitely see more cherry canning in my future, but maybe not until I screw up enough courage to use the water bath again? Haha 🙂 Have a good weekend, all! And PS: Happy Birthday, Alex!!

PPS: Yes, I know, still no knitting photos. The market bag is done and drying in the bathroom! The tank top is well underway! More photos next time – honest.

2 thoughts on “a sour cherry saga”

  1. You are not only a VERY “apt pupil”, but your sour cherry jam TASTES as fantabulously DELICIOUS as it looks…I am enjoying it EVERY morning…thank you for sharing it!!!!!

  2. As an old hand at canning, I know what a long and tedious process it can be. Obviously, your Mother taught you very well. The jam looks amazing, and after reading your Mother’s comment, I see it tasted pretty amazing too. Congratulations! The end result was worth the effort, I’m sure. 🙂

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