Posts Tagged sour cherries

Jam-boree!

Once a year, canning buddy and I have a marathon pick ‘n jam session, hitting the market at 7am, then the pick-your-own and then retreating to the house for as many batches of jam as we can be bothered to make. Raspberry and strawberry jams are givens, but there are so many options for things to add and subtract that the fun could go on all day.

We started with this, which included the last of my black cap raspberries from the community garden, and a small container of red currants, also from the garden. They yellow raspberries were a gift. We ate them, unwashed, between batches of jam.


jam3By 4pm, with the shortest possible breaks for coffee and lunch, we had 55 jars of jam, plus a container each of strawberries, raspberries and cherries to keep for eating fresh. It was quite the production line. At any one time we had one or two jams prepped and one on the boil. As soon as the on-the-boil one was ready, we moved one of the prepped jams to the stove and started on that. And rather than waterbathing each batch as we finished it, we did four big water baths of around a dozen jars apiece, coding the lids carefully so we knew which jam was which. It would be so sad to think you’re opening a jar of raspberry lime, and it turns out to be raspberry lemon instead.

jam1We mostly worked with a proportion of 7 cups of fruit, four cups of sugar and the juice of two lemons, which cut the sugar somewhat from our normal 6-4-2 ratio. It seemed to work, although the jams are mostly a little on the runny side. Not a problem my end, given that most of my jams end up in yogurt rather than on bread:

Strawberry raspberry jam (7 jars)
This has to be one of my always-favourite jams, melding two tastes of summer into one glorious mix. It’s so good that I tend to save it rather than open it, so there’s still a jar of 2013 strawberry-raspberry in the cold room.

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Yummy. What else can I say?

Raspberry jam (7 jars)
The KISS principle jam. (Keep it simple, stupid). You can’t go wrong with raspberry jam.

Two-cherry jam (5-1/2 jars)
I think this one was half sour cherry, half sweet. We used kiwi instead of pectin. Using kiwi instead of pectin may change my jamming life.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I’m surprising myself with this one. After insisting repeatedly that I don’t like cherry jam, this one is wowing me. I ate it in midwinter, spooned over Greek yogurt or slathered on home-made bread. It was very, very good.

Red-black raspberry jam (6-1/2 jars)
Half red raspberries, half black-cap beauties, like the ones in the black-cap raspberry jam a week or so ago. My arms and legs are still scratched up from picking these. My partner in community garden crime says it’s like we’ve been wrestling with kittens.

Sour cherry jam (4-3/4 jars)
Kiwi for pectin again. Do you see a trend?

Raspberry lime jam (7 jars)
It looked as though we were going to run out of lemons. Besides, it tastes good.

Strawberry lemon verbena jam (5 jars)
This is that New York Times no-pectin strawberry jam again. I’ve done it with mint and with lavender, so it was time to give lemon verbena a try. That came from the community garden too.

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

I have to admit the strawberry mint is better.

Raspberry-mint-chocolate jam (7-3/4 jars)
The jury is still out on this one. We threw chocolate chips in at the end, and they didn’t melt in that well, so we have chocolate blobs as well as raspberry seeds. And I’m not 100 percent convinced about the idea of raspberries and mint. But it might grow on me.

Rating: 3-1/2 (out of 5). In all honesty, I can barely taste the mint, and the chocolate blobs are a little disconcerting. The spouse says they taste of soap. But it works nicely with plain yogurt or with home-made bread.

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The kiwi to no-pectin jam

I more or less stopped using commercial pectin a few years back because I don’t like the firm-set texture, and I don’t like the piles of sugar you need to compensate for the bitterness of the pectin.

But there are fruits that won’t set without added pectin, cherries for example. So each year I bit the bullet as we followed the recipe on the Bernadin pectin box for a couple of big batches of cherry jam, which is probably canning buddy’s must-make jam each year. Bernadin suggests an extraordinary 7 cups of sugar to four of fruit, along with two pouches of liquid pectin. It sets like a rock, and I didn’t mind much anyway. Cherry jam, as I have said before, is simply not my favourite.

But the New York Times transformed my strawberry jam making last year with a recipe that throws a kiwi fruit into the mix, because kiwi contains the pectin that sweet, ripe strawberries don’t. Could we do that for cherries? Would a cherry jam with kiwi turn to syrup, or would it set?

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The result, I am proud to say, is a lovely, soft set, both with sour cherries, and with a mix of sour and sweet. We added a single chopped up kiwi fruit to our generous kilo of cherries and mean 800 grams of sugar (plus the juice of two lemons). Our only mistake was to include every last scrap of kiwi (barring the skin) — next time we’ll cut out the woody bits at the stem as we chop the fruit. The rest of the fruit melts away to nothing as you boil the jam, barring a few intriguing black seeds. But the woody bits turn to pale chunks in the dark red jam, and it doesn’t look quite right. But hey, it’s cherry jam without added pectin, and canning buddy says we could even use less sugar next time, with perhaps a second kiwi to firm up the set.

Me? I haven’t yet opened my jars of cherry jam, and I suspect they will linger in the back of the store cupboard until I finally give up and give them away.

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But I can’t wait to try my twice-failed melon-ginger jam with kiwi rather than with pectin. The syrup I ended up with last time was perfect for poaching peaches or apricots, but it wasn’t jam.

Any other no-pectin tips out there?

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Almost black

Canning buddy and I braved the hot kitchen in the Toronto heatwave for a quick jamming burst this week, with a jam from a mix of sweet and sour cherries because that’s what I picked up on a trip to the Niagara cherry country. I stoned them the night before, and left them in the fridge overnight with sugar according to the simple 3:2:1 formula that I’ve used for almost all my jams this year. That means 3/6/9 (generous) cups of fruit, 2/4/6 (skimpy) cups of sugar and the juice of 1/2/3 lemon(s), depending on how much fruit you have.

Cherries are low in pectin, and all the recipes suggest adding a pack or a pouch of powdered or liquid pectin to encourage the jam to set.  I try to avoid commercial pectin — it gives me too firm a set — so am always seeking other options. Last year we tried adding apples to a cherry vanilla jam, which was sort of meh, but we had amazing success with adding a kiwi fruit to a strawberry jam earlier this year. (I opened one jar straight away because the seal didn’t take, for some reason, and it’s very, very yummy. A 4-1/2 out of five at least.)

But this year I had some home made pectin to play around with, after an experiment last summer boiling down a couple of pounds of crabapples into a pretty, pink syrup that I froze to pretty pink cubes. We threw two pectin cubes our cherry syrup after 5 minutes of a rolling boil, and Eureka! Five more minutes of boiling and we had an almost black jam with a fairly firm set. It’s a very good cherry jam.

I will add one reality check, and after years of trying to like cherry-flavored stuff, I am forced to admit that cherry jam will never be my favorite. I don’t like the chewy texture, and I don’t like the taste of cooked cherries all that much.

Am I alone in not really liking cherry jam?

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Simple small-batch stuff

Last year I discovered the small-batch jam, throwing together the ingredients needed for 2-3 jars and giving the botulism killing waterbath a miss because I knew I’d eat it all up so fast. And it was such fun that I’ve kept the process going this year, even though I’m also back with the bigger-volume madness like last month’s massive raspberry-plus adventure.

The sour cherry vanilla jam I wrote about here was one example of the small-scale stuff, and I riffed on that last week with a  similar cherry-redcurrant venture.  I added a cup of redcurrants instead of one of the apples, and I boosted the sugar too, because I was afraid of too much bite. It set within minutes.

Sour cherry redcurrant jam (based on last week’s recipe that was in turn based on Madelaine Bullwinkle’s Gourmet Preserves)
1 quart pitted sour cherries (I think it came out as 4 cups)
1 chopped, peeled apple
1 cup redcurrants
3 (and a bit) cups sugar

Simmer fruit for 15 minutes until they are soft. Add sugar, in 3-4  batches,  bringing back to a simmer between each lot of sugar and making sure one batch has dissolved before adding the next one.

Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes until it sets.

Lovely taste, but a notch too much of a set, and it’s a little sweet. Three cups of sugar would  have been plenty. Maybe even two and a half.

It’s still a cherry jam though. I still suspect that cherries are best enjoyed raw.

So given that the super-short sour cherry season is already over, I moved on to apricots, after finding a farm stand in Niagara that had clearly escaped the apricot eating frost we got earlier this year.

I mixed a couple of recipes, did a lot of guesstimating and ended up with this.

It was actually a three-day recipe, because I chopped the apricots up on Sunday and let them sit with the sugar in the fridge until Tuesday because I didn’t think I had time to cook them up.

And then, of course, I realised that apricot jam takes no time at all to cook. I won’t post a recipe, because it was all a bit hit and miss, but basically I chopped up 2 quarts of apricots, added 3 cups of sugar and the juice of a lemon and a bit and let it sit around for a while. Then today, I cracked open the apricot stones to get the kernels and threw a couple of bitter kernels into each of my five sterilized jars.

Next stage was the boil, which took maybe 5 minutes, because the sugar was more or less melted before I started, and finally I threw in a handful of redcurrants to produce the red streaks we liked so much a few years back.

Curious factoids about apricot jam. It foams like mad at the start, but the foam disappears to produce a clear, apricot-colored jam. Watch it carefully. Apricot jam sets fast. Before you know it, it can burn.

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Pretty as a pickle

Why did noone ever tell me how easy bread-and-butter pickles are?

Inspired by a seriously simple New York Times recipe I put together a sweet sour batch in not much more than the time it took to bring sour cherries up to boil (see below), and we’ve already eaten almost half the jar. This is an eat-now pickle rather than a can-and-keep one, which makes it faster, but I was flabbergasted at how easy it is. Slice cucumbers, salt them, and leave them sitting on the kitchen counter (the recipe said the fridge, but the fridge was full) while you go off to the store. When that’s done, boil up some vinegar, sugar and spices, pour over the (drained) cukes and wait an hour or so before you eat them. My only changes: adding mustard seeds because I wanted more of a kick, and substituting chive blossom vinegar because I made it when the chive blossoms were out and needed something to use it in. I forgot to add the dill.

Very pretty, very tasty. They won’t last long.

Then it was on to sour cherries, which always make incredibly fleeting performances in the farmers’ market at around this time of year. I bought a quart, which came out as a mere 3-1/2 cups of stoned cherries. There wasn’t going to be much jam.

Looking for inspiration, I seized on the recipe book I used for one of the raspberry jams last week because it was the only one I could find that didn’t add bought pectin. It used pectin-filled Granny Smith apples instead, and that added a little bulk as well. I cut the apples, increased the lemon juice, and had a jam about 20 minutes from starting the stove.

Sour cherry vanilla jam (based on Madelaine Bullwinkle’s Gourmet Preserves)
3-1/2 cups pitted sour cherries
2 cups chopped, peeled Granny Smith apples
2 cups sugar
1 tsp vanilla extract

Simmer apples and cherries for 15 minutes until they are soft. The recipe said to  chop them in a food processor ahead of time, but I like my jams with chunks, so I just used a potato masher to squish the fruits down a little as they simmered.

Add vanilla, and then the sugar (in 3-4 parts), bringing back to a simmer between each lot of sugar and making sure one batch has dissolved before adding the next one.

Bring to a rolling boil and boil for 5 minutes until it sets. Again, the recipe said 10 minutes, but that was clearly far too long.

It looks good, it tastes good. Very, very tart. It made three jars.

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Thirty five jars?

Now I know it’s fresh fruit season and all that, but whatever possessed me to end up with 35 jars (some of them small) after a marathon canning session today? OK, I am only keeping half of them, and OK I expect to give a lot away, but that’s still a lot of jam. But the fruit at the market was so wonderful, it’s the end of the cherry season, and the apricots have taste this year, so I couldn’t resist. Here, in no particular order, is what we made in a 3-1/2 hour session after an early morning trip to the glorious farmers’ market.

1. Apricot lemon chutney.
This is an old favorite from last year, a deliciously sweet-sour concoction from a recipe book I got at Costco last year. It includes softened lemon peel for tang and ginger and cayenne for bite. We notched the spices up a little, with extra ginger and a little extra cayenne and will wait for a month before tasting. From memory, it’s a chutney that goes amazingly well with both meat and fruit. You can almost eat it by itself, straight from the jar.

2. Sour cherry jam. This is a pretty straightforward creation, easy to make (especially when there’s a volunteer to pit the cherries), and relatively quick to set. Simmer cherries with lemon juice, add sugar, simmer, boil hard, add pectin, boil some more, bottle and enjoy. It will work best with yogurt or vanilla ice cream on a hot summer’s day, of which we seem to have many right now.

3. Sweet cherry jam. This was an experiment from the internet, from a link from a seriously enjoyable blog that I’ve been following off-and-on for a while. Tigress in a Jam sets her readers a monthly challenge of making something to follow a particular theme and another blogger, the aptly named Sugarcrafter, offered a recipe last month for an enticing sounding cherry jam with cardamon, cinammon and rum. I mean how can you go wrong with ingredients like that? We didn’t have rum, so threw in cointreau instead, which seemed sensible at the time. No tasting yet. It filled exactly six jars, two of them little giveaway jars.

4. Apricot redcurrant jam. We made this a couple of years ago, throwing in redcurrants at the last minute after an apricot jam declined to set and then failed to recreate it last year by adding too many redcurrants too early and then letting the jam stick to the bottom of the pan. (This did add a caramel taste). So this time we went back to the original, which was a basic apricot jam (apricots, sugar, lemon juice), with a handful of redcurrants thrown in as we took it off the boil. It’s a brilliant orange with little red spots that don’t really show in the picture. I’m looking forward to trying it.

5. And now things got silly. There were loads of sour cherries left, and lots of apricots too, so we just threw them together for an instant experiment. Three cups sour cherries, two cups chopped apricots, a bit of lemon juice, simmer a little, add 4 cups of sugar and boil until it jams. No clue what it will taste like, but the jewel like color is good.

For those in Toronto, jams are available on request. For those outside Toronto, suggestions on what we could have done better are welcome.

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Mixing and matching

The problem with chutneys is that they really do start tasting better a month or so after you bottle them, so it’s easy to bottle something, and promptly forget that it exists. And that was the story with an experimental sour cherry chutney, which I made this summer because I was worried that I had too much jam. It was one of those recipes that ends up making just a couple of jars, which meant one for me and one for bottling friend, so I only had one jar anyway, and I thought I’d save it for winter, when I wanted something to remind me of cherries. OK, it’s not quite winter yet, but middle of last month seemed like a good time to open the jar.

First the good news. It’s got a nice texture, and a dark red-brown color, unlike most chutneys which are just plain brown. But served on a goat cheese sandwich, it just seemed sweet — almost like a jam, but with onion slices. In fact it was so sweet that I tried it with vanilla ice cream instead. Sounds silly. Was silly. Really not a good idea.

And then, in one of those inspirational moments, I tried it on crackers with old manchego cheese, and bingo. The perfect pairing, the sharpness of the cheese offsetting the sweetness of the chutney.

Will I make it again? Probably not. But it was worth trying once.

Chutney and cheese

Rating: 3-1/2 stars.

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