Sweet and Sour Cherry Preserves

I love sour cherry season… it’s so brief and so delicious.

Chris and I went to Battleview Orchards a few days ago and picked up 6 quarts of sour cherries (about 9.75 lbs) because I had plans… sour cherry crisp, sour cherry liqueur, sour cherry extract, and sour cherry preserves. Reminds me of one of Jack Prelutsky’s poems from It’s Thanksgiving (“turkey puffs and turkey pudding, turkey patties, turkey pies, turkey bisque and turkey burgers, turkey fritters, turkey fries”) – Cary and I would recite those poems over and over at Thanksgiving time.

Anyway, it took 1 hour 15 minutes to wash, stem, and pit the cherries, then 1 hr 45 min to cook them down. It was totally worth it. I combined 2 lbs of dark sweet cherries with 5 lbs of sour cherries, it gave it a really good depth of flavor, almost a hint of warmth like cinnamon even though I didn’t add any.

Chris picked out a cherry pitter at the orchard that worked perfectly. It looks like a hypodermic but works very well and is easy to clean. It’s much easier to pit the sour cherries than the large dark cherries.

pitted

Note: Most cherry preserve recipes call for much more sugar… I don’t like to use so much sugar, I prefer to cook the preserves down for a lot longer so that the sweetness comes out naturally and the preserves get thick and gooey on their own (no added pectin). You’ll have less total output because it cooks down so much, but it tastes so much better.

7 lbs of fruit made 4.5 pints (which I split into 6 half-pint jelly jars and 6 quarter-pint jelly jars).

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs sour cherries (3 quart containers from our local orchard)
  • 2 lbs dark sweet cherries
  • 5 cups sugar
  • 3 tbsp fresh squeezed lemon juice

Directions:

Wash, stem, and pit all of the cherries.

Good tangent: Keep the pits! Use them to make extract (I’m doing that right now), just fill a quart mason jar with all of the pits, which goes about 2/3 of the way up the jar, then fill the remaining space with vodka – let it sit in a dark cool place for a month and then strain it and start using it!) – I didn’t know  this before, but cherry pits are used to make almond extract! Same flavor.

extract

Back to preserves… put the cherries in a large dutch oven (my other long time love, my cherry red Le Creuset) and crush them with a potato masher (don’t mash them to bits, just crush them so that they make it easier to break down.

start

before the crush

Add 1 cup of the sugar and all of the lemon juice and mix together. Turn on the heat to medium and cook it, stirring often. Once the sugar dissolves add another cup. Repeat this until all five cups have been added. Then you’ll have to cook it even longer… in total it took me 1 hr and 45 minutes to cook it down to about 1/3 of it’s original volume. Keep skimming off the pink foam and keep stirring with a silicone spatula/spoon.

You’ll know it’s ready when it starts to make large lava flow-like bubbles that pop and scare you with their violence (not the small fast-boil bubbles that you’ll see in the center throughout the cooking, these lava bubbles are large). If you have a candy thermometer it will be about 220 F.  Dip in a teaspoon and run your finger through it, it will be thickish and the line will stay in place. So good.

cookeddown

Not yet lava bubbles, but getting there!

While it’s all cooking (since you have 1 hr 45 minutes to stand around stirring at the stove), put another large pot on the stove filled with water, bring to a boil, and boil your jelly jars, rings and lids for 10 minutes for each batch. Put down a tea towel, put cooling racks on top, and put your clean hot jars and lids on the racks to wait for the delicious jam.

cleanjars

When the preserves are ready just use a ladle and a jar funnel and fill them. Leave about 1/2-1/4 inch of air space at the top, and close them immediately. The heat of the hot jars and hot jam should make them seal on their own (you’ll hear them pop in the hours that they sit cooling on the counter).

These preserves are delicious on bread of course, but also warmed up a bit with vanilla ice cream or on pound cake or just eaten with a spoon by the light of the fridge.  🙂  I think I’m going to make some butter cookies to make cherry jam sandwich cookies with some of these preserves.

finished

Sour cherry liqueur is up next, stay tuned!

Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves and our Down East Maine vacation

Chris and I had a great time in Maine. I’m a bit sorry to be home– well, sorry to be in smelly Staten Island. If only I could move the whole family to Maine with me!
During the trip we visited Machias, wild blueberry capital of the world, for their 37th annual Blueberry Festival. It was so much fun. Click the photos to enlarge them.


The local fire department had a stand selling fried dough (Maine-speak for funnel cake). It was super hot by the stand and smelled of hot oil. Good thing the Fire Dept was in charge of it with all of that burning oil!
Remnants of my yummy baked bean dinner (I ate the biscuit before I remembered to take the photo). Chris ate a lobster roll, of course, and fish chowder. All of the food was homemade, they served it out of crock pots.  🙂  I’ve never eaten so much coleslaw in one trip. It’s pretty much the only veggie side you can get in the state other than potatoes and corn.  🙂 One other funny thing that the food stand was served in the parking lot for the local mechanic, so we ate with the faint smell of motor oil in the background. Chris didn’t like the ambiance.  😉
Center St. Congregational Church (they host the festival every year)
Festival stands – we bought some beautiful pottery from a local potter.
Ironic: the Benjamin Moore paint store across the street needs a paint job desperately!

I’d show the photo of Chris scarfing down his piece of blueberry rhubarb pie in the car (he couldn’t wait) but I think he’d get mad.  🙂

The best part was the tour of the Welch wild blueberry farm in Roque Bluffs (no relation to the grape juice, the family name is actually Hanscom, they have owned it for almost 100 years, but the original family that owned the land was Welch).

Wild blueberry field at a distance

Another view of the blueberry field… I love the colors.
Family farm home and barn… the barn is 100 years old, and unusual for it’s time as it’s built in the Western style, not the English style most common in Main during that time.

Blueberry field close-up: notice the grasses growing and how low the blueberries are

Blueberries in the field, up close (note the light blue powder coating, called bloom)

We learned so much… I never knew that wild blueberries are really low to the ground. These were only about 6-12″ high! They reproduce through their rhizomes, which run underground, so they mow or burn the entire crop down at the end of every year (alternating mowing and burning on a cycle– burning is really expensive but gets rid of pests). The blueberry plants come back from underground every year and you have berries every other year.

Burner used to torch the crops after harvest (in October) to prevent disease and pests
Lisa Hanscom (co-owner with her father, Wayne) showing blueberry rakes and antique winnowing machines. The Wooden wheel at left is used to roll and unroll the twine used to mark off rows for harvesting.

Winnowing machines and blueberry boxes

Harvesting machine (for blueberries that will be frozen)

Harvesting machine. The kid in the back loads the boxes to hold the blueberries and switches them out when full.

Blueberries that have been raked or harvested in the field, waiting to be brought in for winnowing and sorting.

They’re a very low-maintenance crop, comparatively. The farm we went to doesn’t fertilize them a lot, so they’re shorter than at other farms, but many farm blueberry fields that we passed throughout the region looked similar.
I also learned that farming blueberries is not a very profitable business… you aren’t told the price that you’ll get for your berries from the distributor until December after your harvest! That means the companies have all of the control. It’s really scary. The farm owners all work a couple of other jobs in addition to running the farm. It’s a labor of love.

Wayne Hanscom, in blue with blue baseball hat (co-owner, Lisa’s Dad). His stories were very interesting, learning how farming has changed drastically in his lifetime.

 I had a chance to harvest some of the berries myself, using the hand rake. It’s back-breaking work to be bent over like that and they work the field by hand to harvest the pie-ready berries (the best ones). The ones they sell for freezing are gathered by a harvester, which isn’t as delicate with the berries.
Once you’ve raked them you winnow them, which really comes from using the wind to sort out the berries from the leaves and grasses your rake may catch. To winnow by hand you tilt the rake down high above a box so that the wind takes the grasses and leaves and only the berries fall directly down into the boxes. Pretty cool. Now most farms use machines to winnow.
I also learned that the berries are really light blue in the field when they’re untouched. Too much touching knocks the light blue powder (called bloom) off of them and they look black instead.

Me hand-harvesting blueberries with a hand rake

Me harvesting berries (keep that comb tilted up or you lose the berries on the ground!)
Hand raked blueberries

 We also got to see how the berries are sorted by hand after picking. Even that is labor intensive, and slow, but really interesting. We bought 2 quarts of these berries, but since we had a number of days left of our trip before we were coming back to NY we ate some and put the rest in a cooler with freezer packs to keep them in tact so that I could make jam when we arrived home.

Blueberry sorting machine (dumps berries that are too light/dry before they get to the ladies who sort by hand)

The ladies that select the blueberries for fresh pack (or pie ready) sale – the rejects go to the distributor for frozen blueberry sales
The Hanscom family’s blueberry beetle!

A caterpillar on the path to the field (I wonder if he’s red because he eats blueberry plants!)

Wild blueberries are much less tart than high bush berries, and are smaller and have a milder, floral flavor and smell. They’re delicious but even better baked in a pie or cooked in jam. The jam was easy to make. 2 quarts of berries made 8 half-pints plus two tablespoons which we happily sampled (quality control is very important heeheehee).

My blueberry jam just starting to cook (still some light blue ones!). When it’s cooked it’s all dark, and smells delicious! Tastes just like blueberry pie.

Wild Maine Blueberry Preserves
Makes 8 half-pint jars
2 quarts wild Maine blueberries
4 cups sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 box low-sugar Sure-Jell pectin
Wash berries and place in dutch oven on stove. Mash some of the berries with a potato masher. Then stir in sugar and lemon juice. Bring to rapid boil, stirring frequently. Add low-sugar pectin and bring to boil for a full minute, stirring constantly. Fill sterilized jars, seal, and allow to cool. Listen for caps popping (vacuum seal). If any caps do not seal then refrigerate that jar and use within a month. The other (sealed) jars can sit in a cool dark place for months before opening.

Peach Jam #3

Even though I’ve posted 2 previous trials of peach jam I am posting this one to keep track of the amounts used. Each time it gets better, with less sugar and more cooking time.
This time I made 9 half-pint jars from 25 peaches (it’s peach season and Cary took me to Battleview Orchards for my peach jam run). I bought 8 quarts of peaches and kept about 8 peaches aside to hold for pie. I’ll make that on Friday.

The pot was pretty full this time, so it took 1.5 – 2 hours of boiling to cook it down about 50%.

Early stages of cooking… tons of peaches!

Recipe:
25 peaches (9 lbs 7 oz after they were peeled and cut up)
3 cups sugar
1/2 cup fresh lemon juice
1 packet of no-sugar pectin

Peaches were blanched and given an ice bath so I could peel them easily. I drastically cut the sugar content again. Even after 2 hours of cooking I had to add pectin to thicken it. Total prep and cooking time was 2.5 – 3 hours. Peaches are so watery when they cook that they really do need pectin unless I wanted to stand in front of the pot stirring for another 2 hours… no thank you!

It was really delicious and peachy this time, all fruit, very little goo.  🙂  Each serving of this recipe (2 tablespoons) is 59 calories and 14g of sugar. Practically health food!

UPDATE: 8 August 2012
This batch came out tangy. Chris wants it to be sweeter, so next time I’ll use more sugar. I like it, but it is more tart, almost like an apricot jam. I think a little more sugar wouldn’t go amiss.  🙂

Strawberry Blueberry Jam

Leftover berries again. This time I used 1.3 quarts of strawberries and .75 pint blueberries and 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp lemon juice. Made 2 half-pint jars.
Cooked it all down until it was jam. Really don’t need pectin if you cook it down enough.
This one’s delicious. The blueberries were whole so they keep a little shape and give a nice mellow flavor the the strawberries. Tones down the sweetness a teeny bit.

More jam (raspberry and pineapple)

Raspberry and Pineapple Jams (click to enlarge)

Now I love it when we have fruit that we haven’t finished eating or that has gotten a bit too ripe for our tastes.
Now I get to use it to make micro batches of jam!

We had 2 half-pints of raspberries, so that made 1 half-pint jar of jam.
We also had 1.5 cups of fresh pineapple leftover, so that made 3/4 of a half-pint jar of jam.

Delicious. I didn’t seed the raspberries because it’s too much work, but it makes for a very seedy jam.
Maybe next time I’ll mash them and get rid of some of the seeds before I cook it.

Ingredients for Raspberry Jam:
2 half-pints raspberries
8 tbsp sugar
1 tsp lemon juice

Ingredients for Pineapple Jam:
1.5 cups fresh pineapple (make sure to mash it or blend it first, chopping doesn’t break it down enough)
6 tbsp sugar (this pineapple was overripe and very sweet, didn’t need more sugar)
2 tsp lemon juice

Cook each batch in a small pot at medium heat. Let cook at rolling bubble until thickened and the spoon is coated with jam when removed from pot. pour into sanitized half-pint jelly jars. Refrigerate after vacuum seal is set and jars are cooled.

Apricot Jam

We had some apricots that were starting to get soft but were delicious, so I decided to make a mini-batch of  jam. This was incredible. The flavor is nothing like store jam. The apricot flavor is really strong and a little tangy… excellent.
These were organic apricots so I didn’t peel them and I didn’t want to waste a packet of pectin on such a small amount, so I just cooked it longer so that it would jell nicely. It was perfect.
It made a single half-pint jar (almost), and we made it last until the weekend. Yum.  🙂

Ingredients:
4 ripe apricots (don’t need to peel these if organic and washed)
4 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp lemon juice

Directions:
Chop apricots, add to saucepan, add sugar and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, bring to a rolling bubble, and cook for 20 minutes, or until thick and jelled. Add to sterilized jars while hot (this will create a seal).

Strawberry rhubarb jam

Yum… Chris and I polished off two half-pints in two days.  🙂

I was craving some home cooking and saw fresh rhubarb at Fresh Direct… I made my own recipe… Next time I’ll add more rhubarb and/or less sugar. I kept reading recipes that said that you have to add much more sugar to counteract the tartness of rhubarb, but I don’t think so. Less would be better. Strawberry is sweet enough.
I used the Sure Jell pectin that is made for low or no sugar to help it set better.

Ingredients:
2 cups rhubarb, finely chopped
6 cups strawberries, chopped
4 1/2 cups sugar (use less next time)
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 packet Sure Jell no-sugar added pectin

Directions:
Put fruit and sugar in dutch oven. Let sit for 1-2 hours. Add lemon juice and cook mixture over med-high heat, bring to a rolling boil. Add pectin and keep boiling for 1 minute, stirring constantly.
Fill half- or quarter-pint jars. Allow to cool completely to set.

Makes 9 half-pint jars.

In the pot… just starting to cook.

Chilling in the fridge… it’s hard to wait, but you don’t have to if you want to spoon some over vanilla ice cream… yum!

Update May 27, 2013: I made some more strawberry rhubarb jam this week (so good…) but I wanted to put in a note of the way my jam making has changed over the year. This time I used 2 quarts strawberries, 3 large stalks rhubarb, 2 cups sugar and cooked it all down until it was jammy. No pectin, no mashing. I squeezed in the juice of 1/4 of a meyer lemon after it was cooked and stirred it in before canning. Lovely and delicious. I no longer use pectin but cook all jams for longer, until the spoon is really coated and leaves a solid line when you run your finger down the back of  the spoon.