Cherries are Here!

Aside from watermelon, I think cherries are my favorite fruit of summer.  I love Bing cherries, just for eating out of hand, but pie cherries are like gold.  Most years we manage to get hold of a quart or two, and if our tree is producing we pick as many as we can use.  This year our tree held nothing but disappointment and it would have been quite depressing if we hadn’t been able to get on the Godfrey List.  They have cherries!  We got a flat of the the sour and several pounds of sweet this week, and have been busy putting them to good use.

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I am a champion cherry pitter.  I can pit two quarts an hour with my handy hairpin, a kitchen tool I prefer for this job because it causes less damage to the cherry.  If I am going to chop them up, say for jam, it doesn’t matter, but for pickle or preserves, it’s nice to see the whole cherry in the finished product.  These cherries from Godfrey’s were beautiful, just at the peak of ripeness and without stems, which made the pitting process much easier.

First on the list of “things to do with cherries” is cherry pickle.  We love this stuff, on duck or pork or right out of the jar.  And while they take time to mellow before you get gratification, it is worth the wait.

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Start with your pitted cherries – and btw, you can also make these with sweet cherries – 2 pounds, or about 7 cups.  Split them between two quart (clean/sterile) jars and cover them with vinegar.  You can use distilled white for this, or white wine vinegar.  I wouldn’t use cider vinegar, as the cherry flavor is a little too delicate for that apple flavor.  It will take about 3 cups of vinegar.  Let the cherries stand in the vinegar for three days.  That is what the picture above depicts.

On the fourth day, strain the cherries out of the vinegar.  Save that vinegar!  You can either start another batch of cherries in it, or use it in salad dressings and the like.  You will find it to be one of the best by-products ever!  Take the drained cherries and layer them back in the jars with sugar – about 2 cups in each jar.  Cherries sugar cherries sugar.  Set your jars in a cool place where you will remember to give them a gentle shake now and then, completely inverting the jars to get the sugar that will invariably settle at the bottom to join its peers in becoming syrup.  Eventually all the sugar will dissolve and your vinegared cherries will be marinating in a sweet sugar syrup.  Let them do this for nine days.  After nine days you can transfer them to new clean sterile jars and lids, and process them for about 10 minutes in a boiling water bath for preservation.  Wait about a month before you try them, for best results.  You will love them.  And the syrup is great added to club soda for a most refreshing shrub, another unexpected by-product of your hard labor.

We also tried something new this year.  Rather than jam I made cherry preserves.  I have an old canning book – “The Complete Book of Home Preserving” by Ann Seranne – from 1955 that has some wonderful recipes in it.  It contains, among other treasures, my go-to hot sauce recipe. (And listen, I know I just said it’s an old canning book born in 1955, but at least I corrected it from “very” old to just “old”.)  Since our cherries were so pretty and fresh, I just didn’t want to chop them all up, and this method of preserves was so easy, it was worth a try.

Take your pitted cherries and mix with 3/4 to one pound of sugar for each pound of fruit.  Let them sit overnight.  The next day heat them to the boiling point and boil rapidly for about 15 minutes until the cherries get very tender but don’t break down completely.  Take them off the heat, and let them stand in their syrup until they are cold.  Strain off the liquid and set the cherries aside while you continue to boil the syrup until it gets as thick as you like – or until it reaches 224 degrees.  When it is nice and thickish, pack the cherries in hot sterile jars, pour the syrup over them and process with clean sterile lids for about 10 minutes in a boiling water bath.  Haven’t tried ours yet but I am pretty sure this is going to be a real treat come December, introduced to vanilla ice cream perhaps.

And then of course there is cherry pie!

Also on the shelf we have Cherry ‘Shine – from the previously mentioned book “Saving the Season”.  This is where you take your (washed but not pitted) sweet cherries, clip the stem to about 1/4th inch, pack them in a clean quart jar and cover them with good quality vodka.  In about a month you are supposed to be rewarded with some super electrifying Bing cherries and some delightful cherry moonshine to go with it.  We’ll see – our month is just about up!  And in the same vein, we took about a half pound of the pitted sour cherries and covered them with Luxardo – a maraschino liqueur – to make a version of maraschino cherries for your occasional Manhattan.

Cherries!  The possibilities are endless.

In closing, just because, here’s something that has nothing to do with cherries.  Dinner on the fire-pit this past Thursday night – Thumann dogs and Kevin’s homemade buns, sugar snap peas from the garden and Anchor’s new potatoes roasting in the coals.  Plain and fancy!

Summer.  Gotta live it!

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