Although are still in the markets and on our minds, cherries will soon replace them. They are delicious right from the tree or box, of course, but they are also easily preservable for later enjoyment.
One of the easiest ways to keep cherries is by canning them in syrup. Because they are so acidic, you can vary the amount and type of sugar you use, as well as the flavorings, without affecting the safety and quality of the final product. I used an assortment of chai spices, raw sugar and lemon peel.
Even if you're not much of a drinker, I recommend adding some alcohol at the end: it will add a depth of flavor, preserve the cherries longer, and mellow over time. (In fact, maraschino cherries were originally preserved in the alcohol which bears their name. It was only during Prohibition that they took on the dyed, cloying sweetness we know today.) You can always give the cherries a quick rinse before serving; they'll still retain most of their flavor.
What kind of cherries should you use? Anything will work, really, but my preference is sour cherries, which lend a vivid tartness that complements the spicy syrup perfectly. They lose a lot of their color in cooking, but it goes straight into the syrup, so it looks pretty in the jar.
Here's a step-by-step guide, followed by notes. Also, make sure to check out the photos, especially if you've never done this before.
- 4 cups cherries, washed and pitted, stems removed
- 2 cups sugar (less if desired)
- 1 cup water
- Assorted whole spices, slightly crushed: allspice, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, vanilla beans, bay leaves, citrus zest and / or juice
- 2 cups bourbon, brandy or rum (optional)
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil if you plan to can the cherries.
- Bring sugar, water and spices to a boil in another pot over high heat.
- Add cherries, return to a boil, and cook for 5 minutes, pressing on the muslin bag to extract the most flavor.
- Turn off the heat and add liquor.
- Pack into jars, wipe rims, and top with , tightening by hand.
- Boil jars for 10 minutes. Remove and cool.
- A cherry pitter is absolutely necessary for this project, as is a dark-colored shirt or apron; you will get splattered! (Some pick-your-own farms offer the use of a pitting machine for a nominal fee. This saves a huge amount of time, effort and mess.)
- Although you can vary the amount of sugar, I don't recommend using less than a cup: the cherries will be very bland.
- I crushed the spices and put them in a muslin bag to avoid fishing out bits of seeds and pods at the end, but left the cinnamon stick whole. Whatever else you vary or omit, make sure to use a whole vanilla bean: cut it lengthwise and use the tip of your knife to scrape out the seeds inside, then add it all to the pot. They are pricey, but worth it for the flavor they add.
- Cherries will keep a very long time in the refrigerator, but canning is nice for longer storage or to give away.
- This recipe makes about three half-pint jars, plus a lot of leftover liquid (I pack the jars with cherries, then add enough liquid to cover.) If you prefer to keep them together, you can stretch the recipe into four or five jars.
- Many enjoy the flavor of cherry pits, which have a slightly bitter almond aroma. You can accomplish this by canning them whole or adding some pits to the liquid. I just plain didn't want to fuss with it!
- Using the cherries: try folding them into muffin batter, pouring over a baked angelfood cake, or adding to a glass of lemonade. They are wonderful in cocktails, too!