Sunday, July 23, 2017

Got Cherries? Jam 'em, booze 'em, and eat 'em all up! #canbassador

When I was a kid, the best part of summer was walking with my mom to an empty lot a few blocks from where we lived. A guy would park a truck in the lot and sell fresh fruits and vegetables, weighing them on a hanging scale and putting them in paper sacks.

When cherries were in season, my mom would buy some for me. I'd munch on them all the way home, spitting the seeds out as I went. By the time I got home, there were no more cherries.

I'm surprised a forest of cherry trees didn't sprout along our route.

When the nice folks at Northwest Cherry Growers asked if I wanted to be a #canbassador, I jumped at the chance. Enough cherries to do some canning? Count me it!

I'll admit that I might have eaten several pounds of cherries all on my own. But I didn't spit the seeds all over the living room. That would have been weird.

The rest of the cherries were pitted and divided up for several different recipes. My two favorites were a smooth cherry jam, and some brandied cherries.

I also made a Luxardo cherry recipe that was good, but not perfect. I think it would have been better with tart cherries, or perhaps I need to tweak the sweet/tart ratio.

If you like Luxardo cherries, though, that recipe is a great starting place. Check it out!

The recipes I'm posting here were based loosely on some that I found on the Northwest Cherries site, but I cut back on the quantities so I could try more recipes.

Since I made so little of each recipe, I didn't actually can them for preserving, though. I tossed them into the refrigerator and started using them right away.

The great thing about making recipes for use "now" rather than canning is that you can adjust the sugar and acid to your taste, rather than for preservation. If you're making vast quantities of foods for long-term, non-refrigerated storage, make sure you're using a recipe from a trusted food preservation source. There's no sense spending the time and money to make a dozens of jars of jam, only to find they've molded in the jars when you open them.

Yeah, my mom made moldy jam once. It wasn't pretty.

First, I made some brandied cherries. Like this:

Brandied Cherries

Based on a recipe from Northwest Cherry Growers.

Oooooh, this was so good.

I used these as a topping for ice cream. Adults only, of course. They'd also be nice in cocktails, but for that I'd suggest not chopping the cherries.

If you don't happen to have brandy, it should work just as well with bourbon or whisky. Maybe even rum.

1 pound sweet red cherries, pitted, stemmed, and roughly chopped
1/2 cup sugar
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup brandy

Combine the cherries, sugar, and lemon juice and bring to a simmer and let it cook for a minute or two.

Add the brandy, bring to a boil, then turn off the heat.

Transfer the cherries and liquid to jars or other storage containers (this makes about a pint, plus a little extra) and allow it to cool, then refrigerate.

Next, I made a cherry jam, also based on a recipe  from the Northwest Cherry Growers website, but I used sweet red cherries instead of yellow ones. 

Sweet Cherry Jam

2 pounds red cherries, stemmed and pitted*
1 1/2 cups sugar, or to taste
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Pinch of salt
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Put all the ingredients in a blender, and blend until smooth. If you're not sure about the sugar amount, feel free to start with less - let's say about 1/2 cup - and add more sugar later, if you want more sweetness.

Transfer the blended cherries to a saucepan and heat to a boil, then lower to a happy simmer. Continue cooking, stirring often, until the jam reaches your preferred thickness.

Like the napkin? Get them here
Since it will become thicker as it cools, the best way to check it is to put a small amount of the jam on a spoon and put the spoon in the refrigerator to chill.

Taste your thickness tester and add more sugar to the pot, if desired.

If you prefer more tartness, add more lemon juice. Continue cooking until your optimal thickness is reached. Since I wanted to stir into yogurt or drizzle onto ice cream and for spreading on toast and muffins, I left it a little looser than if I only wanted it as a spread for toast.

Transfer to jars (this will make a bit more than a pint) or other storage container.

Let it cool, then refrigerate.

*Make sure your cherry pitter is actually ejecting every single pit from the cherries. Sometimes one will get stuck, and since you're blending, it could be a problem.

When I was done with this recipe, I had just a little jam left in the pan. Not enough to fill a jar, but more than I wanted to throw away. I added some pitted chopped cherries and let them cook a while to create a chunkier, not-as-sweet jam, adjusting sweet and tart on a whim. Did I write anything down? No, of course not. But that's the great thing about refrigerator jams - you can wing it, adjust flavors on the fly, and end up with a little half-pint of something fun.

Thanks to Northwest Cherry Growers for sponsoring! 
Napkins shown in photos provided by The Napkins at no cost to me for use on my blog.