You have no idea how many places I went to source these cherries in mid-March. The grocers thought I was mad for asking! Even in frozen form, there appears to be not a cherry to be had at the moment. I sincerely hope there isn’t some sort of global shortage, they would a sad Hungry Hubby make.
The consolation was although that my quest meant me and Hubs got lots of exercise walking all over the town to find them. Three punnets of crimson, purplish-blue, glossy Bing cherries to be exact. Of course, the English season is at least a couple of months away and the European one hasn’t quite hit yet but as I had a short window of opportunity to turn them into jam to be used in an as-yet-secret recipe I will be sharing with you in a few weeks time.
For those detectives amongst you, you may realise Hungry Hubby’s birthday is coming up and these previous posts may give you some clues as to what I’ll be getting up to here and here. Mwuahahaha. For now, you will have to make do with the recipe for this glorious jam which you will just have to spread on your toast (should you be able to get some fresh cherries of course!) or fill a Victoria sponge (may I be so bold to suggest you fill my vanilla yogurt cake with it too?). Or just Pin It for May/June when we should have cherries-a-plenty in the shops.
Whilst I would be wrong to disagree that eating a bowl full of ripe, sweet and sour, burst in the mouth cherries on the couch with Hubs for pud is a cathartic pastime, please be reassured in the knowledge that turning fruit into homemade jam delivers flavours and textures even the best ready-made stuff just can’t replicate. The beauty is you are totally in control of the level of sweetness, the degree of set and finally texture of the fruit. Which is handy as jam certainly divides opinion – seeds in or seedless; chunks or completely smooth; wibbly wobbly barely sits on your spoon or set like jelly.
This particular jam is all about bringing out the best cherry flavour you can, relying on the natural sweetness of the fruits – and luckily these were perfectly sweet – and delivers chunks of fruit in verging on soft set preserve. A little Kirsch and either almond liqueur (Amaretto) or almond extract help the Bings sing and really heighten the flavour of this wonderful fruit. I was inspired by David Lebovitz and his “no-recipe, recipe for cherry jam” although rest assured readers – I will be giving you measurements!
Whilst it is a little laborious to prep all the fruit and from my reasonably meagre jam making experience, the variability from fruit to fruit, batch to batch of the length of time to reach each of the required stages in cooking meaning it is in no way a precise science, jam making *is* easy. Do give David’s post a read above and consult whichever books you have on the subject as from what I can tell, everyone varies in the techniques they favour or dare I say in the prejudices they employ (we all have them in kitchen, don’t say you don’t ;) ).
Luckily I have the rather fab little cherry stoner I got on the recommendation of a couple of foodie friends (thank you Billie!) and have since convinced a few more to buy one too. He is great as the pips are contained in his “legs” and you really can get a production line going shoving cherries into his mouth and then poking them out the back after stoning. Excellent fun! For 33-year-old kids as well as genuine kids, or so my mummy friends tell me *whistles innocently*.
So, for those readers who are newer to making jam, here are a few points I think are worth mentioning before you embark on your own one.
- Feel free to use caster sugar rather than making a special pilgrimage for “jam sugar”. Just save the seeds from your stoning and pop them in a square of muslin tied to the side of the pan as you cook the fruit itself. They have plenty of natural pectin in them already.
- Adding lemon juice will also help with the set – squeeze out a bit of pulp for good measure and I even added the pips from my lemon to the bag of cherry stones.
- Use the biggest pan you have as once the sugar goes in, it will erupt like Vesuvius and you don’t want to burn yourself (or stain the white walls in your rented home’s kitchen cherry red – oopsie…)
- It is less important the actual time for the fruit to cook both before and after adding the sugar than your ability to recognise when it’s ready to move on a stage. View the timings below as guides and don’t worry too much if yours are a lot less or slightly more. The ripeness of the fruit and size you chop the cherries will impact on this – some authors puree their cooked fruit in a food mill which obviously breaks down the cells and releases the pectin quicker than leaving them in rather big chunks like I did.
- The less sugar you add, the softer the set and the less time the jam will last. Low sugar jams are stored in the fridge if you don’t plan on using immediately.
- Testing for set by pouring some of the jam onto a plate which has been in the freezer an hour or so to check for a “wrinkle” (see photo with my finger in above!) is perfectly acceptable and means you can make jam if you do not have a thermometer nor wish to purchase one. Happy days!
And p.s. I sterilise a couple more jars than I need as I find you can never be certain how much you will end up producing. Simply wash in hot soapy water (be careful of your paws!), shake out the excess and pop in a preheated low oven until dry. About 100ºC does it for me for maybe around the 20-minute mark. Or you can do as the Domestic Goddess does herself (of course I am referring to Nigella) and put them through the hot cycle of your dishwasher. Do as you please :)
Now you have a couple of jars of rich jewel coloured cherry jam ready and waiting, you will just have to be patient to see what they end up being used in to celebrate my cherry mad Hungry Hubby’s birthday. Which is the day before Good Friday this year, if you wish to keep an eye out for the recipe. Alas, no prizes for guessing what it might be ;)
- 675 g fresh cherries before stoning
- 1-2 lemons zest and juice
- Approx. 400g caster sugar
- 2 tbsp Kirsch
- 1 tsp Amaretto or 1/2 tsp almond extract
Pop one or two side plates in the freezer.
Wash and stone your cherries, popping the stones in a square of muslin tightly tied with string to the side of your largest pan.
Chop the cherries as finely or as coarsely as you wish. I halved half of them and quartered the rest. Chopping finer makes them cook quicker as well as resulting in a smoother textured jam.
Grate over the zest of 1-2 lemons (I used one monster one).
Cook until the cherries soften considerably, ensuring that the bag of pips stays under the cherries so the pectin can leach out. Don’t leave the pan and stir frequently – a medium heat at about 20-25 minutes saw my cherries ready.
Now, take off the heat, squeeze any mulch through the muslin into the cherries then weigh the fruit. A decent amount of their water will have evaporated so they will weigh less than when you started. Return to the pan and add 3/4 of the weight in sugar.
Squirt over your lemon juice, encouraging a little pulp to go with it and turn up the heat once more to a rolling boil.
Now what you are looking for is the product of more evaporation – you want the sugar to form a thickened syrup and the fruit to start to become one with it. This may take another 25 minutes so don’t panic but again, keep on stirring frequently so it doesn’t stick and catch.
When you think the jam is almost looking like jam (as if you heated up a jar of Bonne Maman cherry preserves mmm!) retrieve a plate from the freezer and pour a spoonful of the syrupy part onto it. Take the jam off the heat. Leave a minute to cool (it will be ferociously hot – again, caution) then push it to see if it wrinkles. Ideally the wrinkle will remain but sag a little when you remove your finger. If not, return and cook a wee while longer, returning the plate to the freezer for the time being.
When the wrinkle test has been passed, stir in the Kirsch and amaretto or almond extract making sure they are well incorporated.
When ready, ladle into sterile jars warm from the oven/dishwasher and pop the lids on. Once cold, either store in a cool dark place or in the fridge.
Adapted from David Lebovitz