Life Hand You A Bowl of Cherries? Make Cherry Jam
Not only is it delicious, cherry jam is easy to make
When we found the house at Clean Slate Farm it was like a gift. It had everything we were looking for and longed for in a home. There was a barn for Tess the horse, a million dollar view of the southern hills in central New York, perfect southern sun exposure for my vegetable and herb gardens, and a kitchen to die for. We moved in on a brisk November day and never looked back.
Come spring we found yet another reason to love Clean Slate Farm. The original owner worked for a nursery and had planted several varieties of apple trees and several cherry trees. Fast forward forty-seven years and not only do we get to enjoy the blossoms in the spring, as do our bees, we get to harvest the fruit in the summer and fall.
This year the trees provided a bumper crop of fruit and cherries were plentiful so I knew cherry jam was in our future. We don’t know what the variety is but when it gives up cherries it does so in a major way making up in quantity what they lack in size. Ours are roughly half the size of what most people know as a cherry.
When the blossoms opened up and the bees started pollinating we began our weekly check of the fruit. They start as small, hard green berries about the size of a pea and grow progressively larger. Then one day they start to turn pinkish on one side and then begin to turn a bright red. When the Baltimore Oriole and Scarlet Tanager showed up I knew it was time to start picking before they and the other birds show up in force to pick the tree clean.
So out to the trees I went containers in hand. In a matter of half an hour i had picked four quarts of cherries for the project. Now the job was to get the pits out, Like I mentioned, the cherries are on the small side and a cherry pitter was out of the question. Once I tried a food mill once with disastrous results. The pits came flying out of the top like empty cartridges from an automatic weapon.
My solution was to cook them down and run the result through a strainer to separate the pulp from the pit. It isn’t perfect but it works well enough to give up eight cups of pulp and juice. It wasn’t easy but cherry jam here we come.
As my experience at making jam increases I developed a system down to make the process quicker and more efficient. Everything in place…mise en place. The water bath doubles as the sterilizer for the jars, two cutting boards, the jam funnel, jar tongs, and a spatula. A small sauce pan holds the lids at a low heat to soften the seal.
Most of what I make now is small batch, four to eight half pint jars. Between strawberries, mulberries, blackberries, and cherries we can have all the jam we can use until the next years harvest with a few extras for gifting. With four quarts of cherry fixin’s I knew I could get an eight to nine cup yield.
I am not a fan of over sugared jam so I use Pomona’s Pectin to reduce the amount of sugar in our jams. In addition to the health concern, it doesn’t seem right to use four cups of fruit and five cups of sugar to make jam. For my tastes the fruit is overpowered by sugar and that much white sugar can’t be good for you. Pomona’s allows me to use as little as three-quarters of a cup of sugar per batch, which can be substituted with honey or maple syrup for a subtle honey or maple flavor.
When using Pomona’s I’ve found it necessary to bring the fruit to a hard, melt the pot boil, and let it rip for two minutes. A timer helps to make sure the boil time is correct. Then I add the pectin/sugar and let it rip for another two minutes. With everything in place it’s only slightly more than one half hour to make the jam and another fifteen minutes to clean up.
There are two tricks I’ve found when making jam. If your jars come out of the water bath with a slight lime scale just add a few tablespoons of vinegar to the water will stop this from happening. The other is to use a tablespoon of butter per two cups of fruit to prevent the fruit from foaming during the boil stages.
Do you make jams and what’s your favorite?