Cherry season is here and I am blessed to have a friend with a cherry tree! In truth Kelly is much more than a friend – she’s my farm mentor. I’ve known Kelly and her family for more than 10 years – she’s incredibly generous with her time, wisdom, and produce and I have learned so much from her.
Cherries are my top summer fruit, with peaches being a close second. Their window of ripeness is narrow and they are incredibly expensive ($4/lb on sale and as much as $9/lb regular price in my region). I was thrilled when Kelly sent me a photo of her cherry tree filled with fruit and an invitation to come pick my fill.
It was well worth the 40 minute drive from Wyandotte County, KS to Oak Grove, MO. I spent a little over an hour picking a basket full of fruit. Farm dog Bo hung out with me as I stretched for the red jewels, birds twittered at me from the tree tops, and the bees worked contentedly in the hive beside the tree. The cherries came off easily: they left their stems clinging to the tree, and remained whole in my basket – perfectly ripe! My goal was to pick enough cherries to make a year’s worth of jam and – fingers crossed – a treat of cherry cobbler.
I keep my canning supplies stored in a sterilite container, so getting to work was simple when I returned home. I washed the cherries in small batches before pitting them – a cherry pitter is a must-have tool for this job. I use a ratio of 2:1 for my jam recipe (eg. 8 cups fruit to 4 cups sugar) but its not set in stone. If the fruit is a bit tart I’ll add another cup or so of sugar. I’m not a fan of pectin – it thickens jams and jellies quickly but its incredibly sweet. I also squeeze in half a lemon, which helps keep the color bright.
The fruit, sugar, and lemon cook for about 20 minutes on medium heat. Stir constantly (wooden utensils are ideal here) to help the sugar dissolve and monitor the heat to prevent boiling over. Rather than cut up the fruit I just smash it against the side of the pot as it cooks. When all the sugar is dissolved (check with the back of a metal spoon) the jam is nearly done. Cook until its your desired thickness – you’re just boiling off water from the fruit. I prefer my jam thin so the syrup can soak into pancakes, bread, biscuits, etc. instead of tearing them. Fill sterilized jelly jars, seal, and process. I use a hot water bath and get a facial while the jars process.
I made 16 pints of cherry jam and had enough cherries left to make a batch of cobbler. It’s an indulgent treat and, in truth, I made myself sick on the lovely concoction! I also had 2 pints of cherry syrup left, and its sitting in the fridge. Cherry Coke anyone?