Judging by the amount of developing fruit on the quinta’s fruit trees (except apples … not so many of them) this could be a bumper year for fruit. Over the last week, an incredible crop of sweet cherries has been ripening on the big tree that overhangs the smaller building. I harvested a bucketful and, between me and the mens, scoffed the lot. By the second bucketful I was finding that so much fruit acid was making my teeth very sensitive, so continuing to eat so many raw cherries no longer looked like a comfortable option. What to do with all the fruit?
We’re not big jam eaters. Jars tend to get opened, half consumed, then languish on shelves gathering dust and growing alien lifeforms until I need the space for something else. It’s nice to have some around for when that unpredictable urge for sweet sticky fruitiness strikes, but half a dozen jars of any fruit jam is more than enough to see us through a couple of years. So turning a bucketful of cherries into jam was really only an option if I was thinking forward to Christmas. And at this stage, I’m not.
A friend here is talking about sun-drying cherries this year and I’d like to try that, but the weather at the moment is a bit too unpredictable to guarantee the necessary heat to get them dried fast enough, so after trawling the internet a while I came up with cherry juice. And after thinking about it some more. I figured I could actually make cherry juice and a half dozen jars of jam from the same batch. It was so simple I don’t know quite why I haven’t done this before, but here’s how …
One large 9-litre (9 US quarts) pan full of de-stalked cherries. (Use a pan that won’t react with the fruit acids. Mine is stainless steel.)
Wash and pit the cherries. I just used a small sharp knife to cut them in two across the waist and pop the pit out.
Return them to the pot.
Add lemon juice. This adds some tartness to bring out the flavour, prevents oxidative discolouration and adds pectin to set the jam. I used 3 lemons.
Sterilise your bottles and jars in boiling water.
Bring the cherries to the boil. There’s no need to add water. There’s enough juice in the cherries. Boil until the cherries are soft. About 10 minutes.
Scoop out some of the cherries in their juice into a separate pan. I took out 1.5 litres (3 pints). For however much you take out, add 3/4 of that volume of sugar. Bring to a fast boil and stir lots to prevent sticking and burning. After about 10 minutes start testing on a cold plate for set point, and pour into sterilised jars when ready. Cap immediately and allow to cool.
In the other pan, liquidise the remaining cherries and add sugar to taste. Bring to the boil and boil 5 minutes. (The somewhat off-putting orange tint which is particularly noticeable in this and the preceding photo wasn’t the colour of the jam and juice – my camera shines an orange light onto subjects in low light situations and has caught the reflection of it. There’s probably a way to stop it doing this, but I haven’t figured it out yet.)
Strain through muslin into a clean pan. Add a bit of water if you want the juice to be less concentrated.
Bring back to the boil to sterilise. Then bottle and cork.
Save the cherry pulp from the muslin. It’s delicious with yoghurt or cream whipped in (even more so with a few almonds) or can be used as a cake or pie filling.
One pan of cherries transformed into 6 jars of jam, 3 bottles of juice and some cherry purée for dessert. I’m thinking about the juice diluted with some fizzy water … sliced strawberries … a sprig of mint … a refreshing drink on a hot summer’s day.
With the next batch of cherries, I did something different. I turned them all into juice, but without liquidising the cherries. This turned out to be preferable as it gives a much clearer juice.
The pulp remaining after straining the juice through the muslin, I boiled up in a pan with a liberal amount of grated ginger and some balsamic vinegar and turned it into cherry chutney. This has turned out to be very tasty with cold meats. Alternatively, I have combined it with some red wine and reduced it to a hot sauce to serve with Christmas duck.