The tart cherry season began (and possibly ended) this past weekend, and on Sunday morning at 10 am, I was taking the beautiful half-hour drive to my favorite place to pick them.
I ended up with 9.5 pounds, which, technically, is just short of the amount needed to get the lower price. But the very nice young woman at the stand gave me the lower rate anyway, so my large bucket of cherries cost me less than twenty bucks. It took a little less than an hour to pick them and about the same amount of time to remove the pits with my super-deluxe cherry stoner. Even though I use it once -- or at most twice -- a year, I love it. Any tool that allows me to buy five times as much fruit as I ought is a good tool.
When I stone cherries, I fill a four-cup glass measure level with the top (probably just under five cups), then transfer the cherries to a ziplock bag and start again. Each bag is enough for a generous pie. Or, as it happens, a batch of cherry jam.
I searched with some diligence, but I could not lay my hands on my copy of Mes Confitures, so I searched the Net for a cherry jam recipe and found one that I modified very slightly. It basically takes the SureJell recipe and adds a soupcon of almond extract. The SureJell instructions are very stern about following their proportions exactly. Else, they say, the jam will not set. Yeah, whatever. I raised the fruit and lowered the sugar very slightly, and my jam set perfectly. Not too thin, not too thick.
I did use Christine Ferber's method of preparing the jars: wash thoroughly in hot soapy water, then set in a 250-degree oven until ready to fill. I treated my canning funnel the same way, but I put my ladle in the pot of boiling water that I was going to use for the hot water bath.
4.5 cups tart cherry pulp
1 package SureJell
1/4 t. almond extract
1/2 t. butter
4 2/3 cups granulated sugar
Follow the jam instructions inside the SureJell box. When the jars are full, process in a boiling water bath for fifteen minutes.
I prepared my 4.5 cups of cherry pulp by putting one of my bags of pitted cherries in the blender and turning it on for a bit. There is a good chance that that many pitted cherries will still have a pit or two, and you will know whether that's the case by the noise the blender makes. Not to worry, the cherries will be nicely cut up long before the blender can begin to chop the pits. Just take out any that escaped the first run through the cherry stoner. I only had one in my bag.
My batch of jam filled six half-pint jars almost exactly. The SureJell instructions tell you to fill the jars to within 1/8" of the top, and the jam in the sixth jar got to about 3/4" from the top. It still sealed, but I decided, largely for selfish reasons, to store that one in the refrigerator instead. Last night when I got home, I spread some cream cheese on a graham cracker and then topped it with a spoonful of the jam (I may have done this more than once). Heaven. A really lively flavor. We'll see how well it holds up over time.
Making jam is an undertaking that frightens many otherwise wonderful cooks, and I have to say that the blackberry jam I made last year was a bit tough on my nerves. The tart cherry jam, however, was an absolute breeze. The SureJell instructions are written so that a thermometer is not necessary, and the small bit of butter means that you end up having to skim only a very small amount of foam off at the end. You will want to lick all of the tools that you used to cook the jam. Make sure that you wait until they cool somewhat, then have at it.