Permaculturing in Portugal

One family's attempts to live in a more planet-friendly way


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 …

Sweet cherries

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.)

Pitted sweet cherries

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.

Pitted sweet cherries

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.

Sterilising bottles and jars

Sterilise your bottles and jars in boiling water.

Cooking cherries

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.

Cooking cherries

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.

Cooking cherries

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.)

Cooking cherries

Strain through muslin into a clean pan. Add a bit of water if you want the juice to be less concentrated.

Cooking cherries

Bring back to the boil to sterilise. Then bottle and cork.

Cooking cherries

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.

Cooking cherries

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.

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  1. Luise May 26, 2012

    Wow, what a crop!
    We rarely eat bread, so the small amounts of jam we eat with yoghurt don’t use up a lot of produce, but what we love to make is syrup. You just cook down the juice with lots of sugar, bottle, there you go. It keeps better than jam even after opening and is incredibly versatile. Run out of juice? Mix some syrup with water (or milk! Yum!). Run out of sugar? Use syrup. Want something sweet on your bread, yoghurt, etc.? Use syrup! Need some candy? Cook down your syrup some more and/or mix with starch. Great in baking, cooking, whatever. I’m sold on syrup! ;) (Right now here is elder blossom time – my favourite syrup!)

  2. Luise May 26, 2012

    Oh… And a good way to dry your cherries: Half and pit them, mix with lots of sugar and regularly stir and strain off syrup. After a while, the sugar will have drawn out a lot of liquid out of your cherries already and when you dry them now, it will be quicker and you’ll have pre-sweetened cherries. We have mostly sour cherries here, so I don’t know if pre-sweetened sweet cherries aren’t too sweet…..

  3. Quinta do Vale May 26, 2012

    It is an amazing crop! There’s at least twice as much again still on the tree. Yes syrup is wonderful! But for me, too sweet, especially with the sweet cherries … hence the juice which is kind of half way to a syrup but not quite. I do the same with the grapes and it makes a wonderful cordial-like drink which can be diluted. Keeps well too.

    I’ll maybe try a syrup with the sour cherries once they ripen, but first there is elderflower cordial to make :-)

  4. David September 24, 2021

    I am having trouble finding the sour cherries in my area of Coimbra. I want to make Ginja. I can travel where ever I need to go to get them. Please let me know. Thanks David

  5. Quinta do Vale November 10, 2021 — Post author

    Hi. I don’t know where you’d find them other than at the viveiros. There were already some growing here when I took on the quinta so I’ve never looked to buy any.

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