Sour Cherry Jam — A Labor of Love
I make a lot of stuff.
Regular (or even occasional) visitors to my Facebook or Instagram pages are aware of my frequent posts chronicling my various attempts at food production, both meal ideas and my current passion for preserving and canning. Some are wonderful and some not so. I keep practicing and will continue to do so until I get it right.
Among my better–and most often produced things–is my applesauce, which I make in collaboration with my lovely wife, Ellen. She picks and chooses the apples, after which I peel, core, chop, cook, and can the apples every Sunday in October while watching football. This year we produced 60 quarts and 12 pints of applesauce, to be enjoyed until next year’s apple season.
My other favorite product, and certainly Ellen’s favorite, is sour cherry jam, again the labor of picking, pitting, cooking, and canning. We pick together, and then I pit, cook, and can. This perfect product began as an outing to a local orchard with the kids and Ben and Cristina, visiting from California and wanted a fun local Lancaster experience. So, off to Cherry Hill Orchard we ran and spent about an hour picking sour cherries, after which we enjoyed marvelous ice cream from Pine View Dairy.
The resulting sour cherry jam was so delicious that the exercise has become another annual event (this year Ellen and I picked 30 pounds of cherries). Again, we picked together, and then I spent a day washing, picking over, and pitting all those cherries and stuffing them into 4-cup freezer bags, to be cooked and canned over the course of the fall.
I made my fourth batch from this year’s harvest yesterday. It was perfect.
And so, having perfected my own personal jam recipe, I now share it with you all, so that you can either try it yourself or wish you had. For the record, eight cups of frozen cherries yield seven nine-ounce jars, plus a little more for your immediate enjoyment on a freshly toasted English muffin (as I did moments before I began writing this post).
You can work out the logistics of obtaining the sour cherries for yourself (we now pick them at the Kissel Hill Fruit Farm behind the Lancaster airport–they have both sour and sweet cherries). But here’s the recipe for the jam…
SOUR CHERRY JAM
8 cups sour cherries, washed and pitted
Zest AND juice from 3 lemons
1 teaspoon almond extract
6 cups cane sugar
- Add cherries, lemon zest and juice, and almond extract to a large non-reactive pot. Bring to a gentle boil, reduce the heat and simmer, just barely bubbling, for 45 minutes. Chop them up with an immersion blender, leaving about 1/4 of the cherries mostly whole, or just slightly mashed (don’t want too many whole cherries rolling off the toast now, do we?)
- While the cherries are simmering, prepare jars and lids for canning: wash them thoroughly with warm soap and water, rinse completely, and then place the jars in a 215-degree oven for 30 minutes, and bring your canning pot to a boil, then turn the heat under the pot to low and place the lids or disks in the hot water for at least five minutes. Alternatively, you can boil place the jars in the canning pot and boil them for five minutes. But either way, keep them hot until ready to can the jam.
- Add sugar and bring slowly to a gentle boil, stirring constantly until all the sugar is dissolved. Allow to simmer gently for 30 minutes, then gradually turn up the heat until the cherry jam is just boiling, stirring occasionally to prevent the sugar from caramelizing. Continue slowly increasing the heat, stirring every few minutes, while monitoring the temperature with a candy thermometer, until the temperature approaches 220 degrees F. At that point I check the temperature with a digital thermometer, allowing the brew to maintain 220 degrees for at least three minutes. If the temperature reaches 222, STOP BOILING and turn the burner down to low. To check for the proper set, you can do the “freeze the plate and drop a spoonful of jam on the cold plate” test if you wish, but I’ve not had much luck with that method–I trust the science.
- Scoop the jam into the hot jars, leaving 1/4″ head space, wipe the rims carefully, and affix the lids, closing only finger tight. Allow the jars to rest for five minutes, then place them in the canning pot, return the canning pot to a rolling boil, and process for 10 minutes, covered. Turn the heat off under the canning pot and allow the jars to sit undisturbed for five minutes, then remove them to a cooling rack or a folded towel. Allow to sit, undisturbed for 24 hours before you move them to storage.