Preserving Sour Cherries.

I really never got addicted to sour cherries until 2 years ago. I popped a couple into my mouth at the West Allis Farmer's market, and my life was forever changed. I'm not really sure why I never ate them before, or sought to look for them. They were something rare, something I never grew up eating.

Last year, I missed the fleeting season altogether - in part because I didn't go to many farmer's markets because I joined a CSA, and in part because the season was not prolific due to our extremely rainy Spring. I made my last jar of tart cherry jam last longer than I should have but by the time July rolled around, I started perusing the Wisconsin Cherry Grower's site nearly daily, paranoid that I was going to miss them again and my memory of tart cherry jam was going to have to hold me for another year.

All of a sudden, there was a cherry explosion. I first saw tiny crates at the Farmer's market last Tuesday, little ruby drops of North Star and Montmorency varieties - gems that put Wisconsin on the gourmet foods map. There really is nothing like a sour cherry, nothing that approximates it's piquant sweetness, and popping the first handfuls into my mouth fueled my growing cherry appetite even more.

When Peef and Lo asked if I'd be interested in getting a substantial amount of cherries from Cherryland's Best, I originally thought I'd split some with another food blogger. But the longer our discussions went, the more we all decided that we could each manage to make 27 lbs. of cherries into something. The way I downed my first little basket, I wondered if 27 lbs. would actually be enough. I imagined myself to sleep by pitting cherries until my fingers hurt, waking early so excited for Wisconsin sour cherries and the task to preserve them all.

I was more than surprised when my cherries came in and they were "processed". A food grade, white pail heavy with already pitted fruits in their own natural, accumulated juices. I drove my haul back home, cracked open the pail, shoveled a handful of tart cherries into my mouth. I was so happy, and I didn't have to pit anything! As soon as I gave my Kiddo lunch, I portioned off my plan of attack. In less than 24 hours, here is what became of the 27 lbs. of cherries:

3 lbs. for the Sour Cherry Jam
2 1/2 lbs. for Limey Rum Sour Cherry Preserves (inspired by Linda Ziedrich, recipe below)
1 lb. for the Bachelor's Jam
3 lbs. for dehydration
2 1/4 lbs. for vinegar
7 1/2 lbs. for quarts canned in light syrup, one jar lost to explosion :(
2 lbs. for cherry crisp
1 lb for fresh eating
just shy of 2 quarts of accumulated cherry juice

I haven't done too much fruit dehydration, and I knew I would be shocked at how much moisture is lost in the process. Of the 3 lbs. of fresh cherries, the finished weight of dried cherries was under a half pound. They are sweeter, and would remind me of a dried cranberry if I didn't know better. After drying them, I put them in the freezer just to make sure any extra moisture doesn't cause them to mold on me. I'll likely use some in my Stollen this year.

bachelor's jam.
I first read about bachelor's jam last year, and was fascinated with the idea of it. Fruit is layered as it comes into season with sugar and kept submerged in alcohol (I used brandy) until ready to use. The "jam" comes from stirring up the boozy fruits and straining them out of the alcohol - each to be used as a separate component to holiday entertaining I'd imagine. I can't wait to make cakes topped with the fruit, to taste the finished alcohol that right now I can only imagine as being extremely sweet.


I feel like flavoring purchased vinegar is totally cheating. I also feel like I have failed miserably at making vinegars, the only success being the blueberry apple variety. The beautiful vat of Lemberger wine that was gifted to me became plagued with black mold, the rhubarb version met the same demise. I still love the flavor of vinegar, especially Bragg's cider vinegar, and put the fruit to steep as recommended in Pam Corbin's River Cottage Preserves Handbook. Next week, I'll strain it, sugar it, and reduce it - where it will be a clever addition to pan sauces and maybe even yogurt. (Note: I decided not to heat the vinegar past the warming point, just enough to dissolve the sugar. This way, the Bragg's vinegar remains raw and healthful despite all of the sugar. It is delicious mixed with ice and seltzer as a shrub.)

the beginning of Limey Rum Cherry Preserves.

Inspired to make more boxed-pectin-free jams this year, I have been devouring the recipes in Linda Zeidrich's The Joys of Jams Jellies and Other Sweet Preserves. Sweet Preserves are something that I never really understood: too thin to be considered a jam, they sit clumsily on toast or pared up with nut butters. They are achingly sweet. I made a strawberry preserves not too long ago that seemed good, but on the sweet side. I felt that when the heat of Summer subsided, they would taste better. But then I made this sour cherry version of preserves - and now my opinions have changed.

Yes, it is sweet. But the texture and viscosity is so lovely that I think it has sold me on the idea of preserves. I used (by weight) raw sugar, which when I smelled in in tandem with the sour cherry, made me think it needed rum. And lime. Instead of lemon, I switched to lime, and in short order, my first tweaked preserves were born.

after boiling 5 minutes, and sitting 12 hours. or maybe a tad longer...

This preserves starts 8-12 hours before the canning process takes place. The sugar combines with the fruit and coaxes the gorgeous juices into being.

Limey Rum Sour Cherry Preserves (adapted from Linda Zeidrich)
my yield: 5 half pints
  • 2 1/2 pounds sour cherries, pitted, any juices saved
  • 5 c. sugar (I used 958 g. of raw sugar, converted by this site)
  • zest of one lime (I use the small, "true" limes)
  • 2 T. lime juice, from the zested lime)
  • 1/4 c. dark, spiced rum
In a large, non-reactive pot, combine the cherries, lime zest, and sugar and let sit covered for at least 1 hour. The sugar should have drawn out some of the juice.

Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring gently and occasionally, until sugar dissolves completely. Raise heat to medium high, and boil for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat, and cover with a cloth. Let the pan stand at room temperature for 8-12 hours.

Set the pan over medium heat and add lime juice. Bring to a boil, and raise heat to medium high. Boil, stirring often (skimming any foam) until the syrup thickens a little. (I tested by using frozen plates - I boiled away for at least 35 minutes until I was happy with the thickness.) Remove the pan from the heat and carefully stir in the rum.

Ladle into half-pint jars. Add lids and rings, and process in hot water bath for 10 minutes.

Since I made these preserves early this morning, I used the skimmed foam (there wasn't much) with an equal part maple syrup for this morning's pancakes. For some reason, I still am not cherried out:

After breakfast, I debated what to do with most of the remaining cherries. I wavered between canning in extra light syrup or freezing, and the canning won out. There's something about seeing quarts of cherries on the shelf, I guess - and the bonus of having some light cherry syrup to contend with...

6 went in, 5 came out...

I talked to my Mom for a good amount of time today, and she was surprised I wasn't making any desserts. "No cherry pies?" I have a serious weakness when it comes to sweets. If I make them, I eat them, if I don't make them, I don't even really crave them. I asked my Husband if he would eat a crisp. "Like, an apple crisp?" he asked, oblivious of the huge white pail that was still sitting on the counter... "No, like cherry crisp," I stated, maybe just a tad annoyed. He said he probably would eat it, so that was the only extra push I needed to make it.

I forgot that I should never NEVER use tapioca flour to thicken pies/tarts/crisps and the like, since I absolutely detest the flavor it imparts. After the crisp baked the first time, I dismembered it crisp from filling and cooked the filling on the stovetop with more sugar to mask the flavor. I also added probably too much cinnamon. Then, I reassembled the crisp into a new, shallower pan, topped with additional crumble (I had only used half the amount the first time, and froze the rest), and re-baked for a half hour. I was much happier.

Have I eaten my fill of cherries yet? I'm not sure. I'm so thankful I have such beautiful preserves to take me through the winter, to give as gifts. And, I'm surprised that it didn't seem like so much work to get it all done in less than a day. Thank you Peef and Lo for thinking of me, and thank you Cherryland's Best for amazing fruit, and less work!