As we were sitting outside on my dad’s back deck on Sunday having a pre-dinner drink (happy father’s day dad!) my wife and I noticed something about the cherry tree in their neighbour’s back yard. It was FULL of beautiful, perfect for the picking cherries. Not a few cherries, not a lot of cherries, we’re talking full on Cherry Nirvana!
When I asked my mom why no one had been picking them she said ‘the neighbours said the tree wasn’t sprayed with pesticides so the cherries are no good’. I think I nearly fell off my chair! After getting permission to pick we promptly picked about 15 pounds of the nicest sweet/sour cherries I’ve ever found from just the bottom few branches – If I had a ladder I could’ve opened a stand at the market on Saturday.
At any rate, below is a quick pictorial tale of what we did to create a dozen and a half jars of cherry jam and pack away another 8 cups of pitted cherries for the winter. I’m by no means an expert at any of this and would love to hear your feedback and ideas for next years crop. I’ll share all my secrets here… except where the cherry tree is.
Step 1 – Clean and Wash
Remove all the leaves and stems, discarding any cherries with obvious signs of trauma including any small pin prick holes. Small holes are indications that there is either damage from a bird poking the cherry (which will cause it to rot) or that there could be worms inside. Be sure to thoroughly wash the all the cherries by rinsing two to three times with cold fresh water.
Step 2 – Remove the Pits
This is by far the most tedious step of the entire process but you can make it fun too. We turned on the radio and stood side by side at the double sink and just dove in. One slightly sore shoulder and about an hour later and all the pits were gone.
Notes on pitting technique. There are many variations on the best way to pit but in the end you really only have to accomplish two things when dealing with organic cherries: 1) Remove the Pit and 2) split the cherry open and inspect for worms. Eww. I Know. Worms. It’s not as bad as you may think. In our 15 pounds of cherries we had about 4 that we opened with worms (any others were obviously bad and tossed before even being opened). The two methods we use to easily pit cherries are:
- The Knife Method. My wife prefers the knife method of pitting where you simply slit the cherry with the paring knife, then split it open with both thumbs and flick out the pit. This is fast and allows you to always inspect the inside looking for things that shouldn’t be there.
- The Paper Clip Method. I prefer using a steel, medium sized un-altered paper clip. Don’t bend it or change its shape at all. Simply hold the cherry in one hand and using the other, insert the blunt end of the paper clip into the indent where the stem was. Push it in, twist it around and pull it out – the pit will come right out held in the clip. Just drop the pit into a bowl, re-insert the clip and break the cherry open in half to inspect the insides. It takes a little getting used to but it really is fast and there’s no knife to cut yourself with.
OK, this may not be low calorie… but come on – it’s JAM! It really could not be simpler though. To make around 7-8 small mason jars of jam you need:
- 8 cups of pitted cherries
- 6 cups of sugar
- 2-3 TBSPs of fresh lemon juice
Simply add the lemon juice, cherries and sugar into a LARGE cooking pot (at LEAST twice as large as the volume of all the ingredients combined). This will almost double in size while cooking and you don’t want this boiling sugary mess overflowing – trust me – so be sure to use a large pot.
Turn the heat onto medium low and continually stir as the sugar melts and juices start mixing from the cherries. Within two or three minutes you should have what looks like cherries in sugar water. Now its time to turn up the heat – SLOWLY.
Little by little bring the heat up while stirring to ensure you don’t scorch the bottom. This will start to simmer and eventually boil and will foam up as if you were boiling potatoes. At this point I would not raise temperature past medium or you will more than likely boil over your pot. After about 5 minutes the foaminess will start to subside and then you can start to crank the heat. We use a candy thermometer and when the temperature of the boiling mixture reached 220 degrees Fahrenheit you’re ready to can! Turn off the stove and remove your pot from heat. Stir occasionally and let sit until the foam dissipates completely and it once again looks like cherries in a thick syrup.
I’m not going to go into a lesson on canning here. Canning is something you NEED to learn about to be able to do safely. Google it and take the time to read everything before you attempt any home canning because if you do it improperly it is very unsafe and can make you very sick. This post was about making JAM! Canning is a whole separate lesson! We use the water bath method of canning where we fully immerse our filled jars under boiling water for at least 10 minutes. This almost always produces a great seal for us. We made two batches of jam which created about 17 jars of jam!
Freeze the rest!
After we finished making the jam we packed the remaining pitted cherries (around 8 cups or so) into freezer bags to use later on. These will be great for lots of things this coming winter: more jam, smoothies, baking, ice cream sauce etc. There’s nothing better than having these frozen treats in the middle of a long winter.
It may seem like a lot of work for some cherry jam, but trust me – once you start making your own nothing else will do! You’ll start eyeing all the seasonal fruit wondering where you can get it in bulk to make your world famous creations and trust me, nothing is more appreciated as a gift than home made jam.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on how we make our jam – leave a comment below with your recipes or ideas!
The finished product!
And lots left to freeze!