Sour Cherry Vanilla Jam… or Syrup!

I was all being whiny at church and was like, “There are no local berry picking places where I can go pick berries!”  Ten minutes later an elder came up to me and said, “Do you like to pick cherries?”    um… YES!

I have never picked cherries before.

He said to come out to his place anytime, the cherries were in season.  I grabbed a friend and we drove out Monday mid-morning. I didn’t take a picture of the tree, because I forgot. But these are SOUR cherries, or PIE cherries, I have a heard them called. Bright red little guys.  Picking was slow going as the little buggers are reluctant to come off the branch. Some I picked the whole stem along with it, sometimes just the berry, and SOMETIMES, I even snagged the berry and the pit stayed on the stem attached to the tree–which maybe is a bonus.

Here’s my little helper:

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I told him, “ONLY eat the RED ones.”   Later that evening I went back with my husband to get some more when little Jayden comes walking around the tree coughing, gagging, spitting…  I’m thinking maybe he’d forgotten the “only eat the red ones,” advice. Sour indeed!

I scoured the internet until I found a recipe that sounded good… and then of course I didn’t follow it. Go figure, right?

Typical.

Item 1: Pit the Cherries. Some people use a little pitting tool. I’ve even heard there is some kind of crank strainer bowl where you can just put them all in, and mash the berries through and the pit stays behind.  Ben and I just man-ed up and did it ourselves. We started by cutting in half, and then taking the pit out.  Then we got smarter and Ben discovered if you hold the cherry over the bowl (so as not to lose the juice), pull the stem with one hand and squeeze the pit out with the other.

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Item 2: Heat all the cherries in a big pot. Use a much bigger pot than the amount of fruit you have. This is a dangerous frothy business.

After the berries were heated, juicey and wilty, I blended them all up with my hand blender because I don’t like chunky jelly.

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Item 3: Start your canning stuff. Heat the lids and jars as directed according to proper canning instructions. I had never canned anything before. EVER. So this was an exciting time in our kitchen. Thankfully the boy was asleep already. (Isn’t my oven beautiful!? Maybe it’s time to run that self cleaning feature again…)

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Item 4: Add Sugar and Vanilla!! The ratio I used was 4 – 3. If you have 4 cups of cherries add in 3 cups of sugar.  (So after the berries are blended and bubbly you have to pour them into a measuring device to see how much there is.) I added one teaspoon of vanilla for every cup of berries. Okay, who am I kidding, I just poured in a good amount of vanilla.

Item 5: What, are you crazy? Don’t put the lid on the pot! Someone I know who looks and thinks a lot like me once did that. Until the pot boiled over like a chemistry lesson gone bad. (See all that steam? Yea… Most of that is smoke. Mmm, nothing like the smell of burning cherries and sugar all over your stove.) Also, this person’s husband lovingly said something to the affect of, “What, are you crazy?! Don’t put the lid on! The whole idea is for the water to boil off.”    OKAY. That person was actually me. And I’m like… Good thinking, Ben.  But in truth, neither one of us was overly dismayed at the boil over. I boil over something on a weekly basis. It’s apparently one of my special talents. Homemade chocolate syrup was the WORST!

Fire in the hole! Boil with lid off...

Item 6: Boil for a real freaking long time. Supposedly there’s this thing called the “wrinkle test.” Where you put a plate in the freezer, then take it out… Spoon a few drops of jam on the plate, wait a couple secs and then smoosh one side with you finger. If it WRINKLES, the jam is done!! If it wipes right up like syrup… Then it’s not done.  Well, I boiled for 20+ minutes. I did the wrinkle test. Didn’t pass the test. And said to myself… Hmm.  It’s midnight. And I like syrup.  So I called in the muscles (husband) for item seven.

Item 7: Pour into prepped jars. So we did that, and put on the lids that had been boiling forever.  A few minutes later I heard these magical little PoPs! When the lids sealed.

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And that about wraps up my first canning experience! I settled for thick syrup because I was impatient, and I am okay with this.  Advice to you: Yes, put the toddler to bed first. No, do not start a cooking project after 11 pm.  And OF COURSE I didn’t take any final project pictures because I went to sleep instead.

Have YOU ever canned before? I have memories of Mom’s blackberry jam ALL over the stove. But it was lip smacking good!

What’s your favorite recipe? Pectin or no pectin?  Let me know!

See ya ’round.

-Tasha

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