Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Cherry Jam - Cooking by the Seat of Your Pants

The decision about what to make with those beautiful cherries was a difficult one.

I weighed all the options. A pie would be wonderful but with 5-6 people sitting down to dessert that meant it would be gone in one sitting. Ditto for cherry cobbler. After some consideration I decided that if I made some cherry jam, we could enjoy it every morning for the next month or so.

So let's make some cherry jam. We're going to do it by the seat of our pants, meaning we'll be making it without a formal recipe or any fancy equipment.

Our grandmothers cooked with recipes but they also cooked by the seat of their pants. Since many lived a rural existence they learned to deal with large quantities of fresh food in season. There was no way they could eat it all before it spoiled, so they learned to preserve or to store excess food safely.

The basic concept of this type of cooking is putting together the following:

the ingredients
the cooking method
the timing
the quantities

If you can understand the ratios of ingredients and the cooking process, you can deal with any amount of food.

So let's get started.

Here are the cherries, already pitted.

Yes, all 462 of them!

Sorry, I thought this photo was so cute, I just had to use it again!

Chop the cherries, leaving about 1/4 of the cherries whole. No matter what anyone says, I love my wooden chopping board. If I was rich I'd have one of those antique chopping blocks in my kitchen.

Put the chopped cherries into a non-reactive pot. (Not aluminum). Add the whole cherries and the zest and juice from one lemon.

Put them over a medium high heat and cook until they're soft, about 20 minutes. Stir frequently.

Remove from heat. Measure out the cooked cherries, putting them into a glass bowl (again, no aluminum).

Enjoy a Diet Coke and a Klondike Bar while you work.

After you've measured the cherries, return them to the pot.

Now we're going to do some math. The ratio is as follows: Add 3/4 as much sugar as you have cherries.

I measured out 6 cups of cherries - 6.00 x .75 = 4.5 cups of sugar.

The ratio is important because you want a sugar content high enough to retard spoilage in the fridge.

Turn the heat up to medium high and continue to cook. The mixture will bubble up. Be careful, it's very hot. Kinda like a cherry lava.

This part requires some patience and dedication because you're going to need to stir to keep the mixture from burning. Don't let it too hot, keep it at a medium bubble.

Find yourself a clean, white plate and place it into the freezer. We're going to use it to test our mixture. Wait and see!

This final cooking process can take about 30 minutes. The mixture will begin to thicken and the bubbling will subside.

Now, we're going to test.

Pull the plate out of the freezer. Drag a trail of the liquid across the plate and put it back into the freezer for 3 minutes. Take the plate out of the freezer and push the mixture with your finger. If it wrinkles up as you push, it's done. If not, return to the heat and continue to cook for a few minutes. Wash the plate, put it back in the freezer and test again. Be careful not to overcook.

Remove from heat and allow to cool completely. I spoon the mixture into clean jars which have been scalded in the dishwasher.

Serve on toast or whatever suits your fancy!

Remember, cooking by the seat of your pants is fun. Besides if your stranded on a desert island without your recipe box you'll still be able to whip something up.


Heidi said...

YUMMY! The Milk Man checked our cherry trees yeseterday and guess what? They are read and he wants a cherry pie.... wish me luck. LOL Looking forward to seeing you this fall! Sue is going to be here on Sunday and I wish you were too... miss ya... :)

Kitty said...

I mostly cook by the seat of my pants, but with jams I always use the box of powdered pectin and instructions. For my next batch I'm going to try out rhubarb jam for my daughter and niece who are big fans of rhubarb. Thanks for the tutorial on how you made your jam--I'll have to try that.

P.S. Your Etsy store is so nice! Love the aprons and will have to buy one when I have a little mad money.

The Blue Ridge Gal said...

I got stranded on a desert island once but there were no cherry trees.... Lots of coconut trees though, do you have any coconut recipes?

The Blue Ridge Gal
(on second thought, I hate coconut)

J'Ollie Primitives said...

Cherry lava. Yum. Sounds like it'd be good on some home made ice cream.

Rue said...

Good morning Suzanne :)

That looks delicious! The place where you picked the cherries was wonderful :)

I'm sorry I missed the giveaway, but I was out of town :(

I hope you had a great 4th!


martina said...

Do you freeze the other jars of jam or do the boiling/pantry safe method to preserve them for later use?

Jody Blue said...

You did a great job, I always enjoy your tutorials. I cook on the fly quite often, scares my family sometimes!! I have one of those big wood cutting boards but I'm not rich, my husband made it and installed it right next to the stove so I can chop and dump. He also made it with a drip valley. I just posted about a little cottage industry he has that shows off his woodworking talent. If you ever come to the east side of WI it might make for a good field trip.

chocolatechic said...

Looks fabulous my dear.

Stacie said...

This looks delicious! Thank you for sharing your beautiful photos and these step by step directions.

I'll admit I was pretty intimidated to attempt something like this before - I feel much more confident now.

Thank you!

Lisa said...

Mmmmm....cherry jam sounds wonderful!

StefRobrts said...

I follow your blog but don't comment often - but I just had to say that your timing is excellent with this one! Just last night I was standing outside looking at our cherry tree and wondering what I could do with all those cherries. I'll try making jam!

Anonymous said...

I want a cherry tree...

Susan Z

lifeinredshoes said...

Hey, at least you were wearing pants.......

dina said...

That looks delish!

I'm a total fly by the seat of her pants kinda gal in the kitchen, too. Used to drive my instructors nuts when I was in culinary school! LOL!

But you're right - if you can get down the whole ratio thing, then you're home free. I have huge notebooks full of formulas (aka recipes) that are scaled out solely by ratio. Good thing I "get" the baking math!

BTW - have you ever tried making a cherry syrup? We do lots of berry syrups here at our house - boysenberry, loganberry, blackberry, blueberry, strawberry, raspberry.... I'm thinking cherry would be amazing!

Suzanne said...

Heidi - Get busy woman. Sheesh, you'd think you had nothing better to do than to make cherry pies! I don't know. I might just run away from home on Sunday.

Kitty - I like the powdered pectin too. It makes it easy and it's kind of foolproof. Thanks for the kind comments on the Etsy store. I'm going to try and amke a go of it.

Di - Hate coconut??? How in the world can you enjoy a good pina colada if you hate coconut. Oh gosh, now I gotta make a pina colada. Did you really get stranded on a desert island?? Do tell.

J'Ollie - If you cook it a little less it's thinner - more like a sauce and delicious on ice cream. A bit tart and wonderful.

Rue - Hope you had a good time out of town. There's always next time for giveaways. Believe me, it's not the last.

Martina - This batch only made two medium size containers full, believe it or not. Those will be gone within a month so no need to freeze or can. I rarely have enough produce to can and I don't like all that hot work in the kitchen, so usually I freeze whatever extra I might have. Corn is easy to blanche and freeze, ditto for green beans. There are plenty of recipes for freezer jam.

Jody - I read that installment. His work is amazing!!!! Omigosh, give me a guy that knows some woodworking skills. I'd keep him busy for a lifetime!

Chocolatechic - To tell the truth I think I cooked this just a tad too long. It got pretty thick. I might need to figure out a way to thin it down a bit.

Stacie - Really, it's pretty easy. It does require some commitment in stirring and watching. You must be patient.

Lisa- It's got a nice tart bite to it, not just sweet.

Stef - Yes! Make some jam. You can also buy the storebought pectin which will help it "jam up" a little easier.

Susan - Plant a cherry tree. Today!

Red Shoes - Yes, pants always in the kitchen. Did you know that Duff of Ace of Cakes fame got noticed by Food Network when he was hosting a local TV show that had the words.... cooking, kitchen and *naked* in the title? Sounds intriguing.

Dina - I think the first thing they would teach you in culinary school is some flying by the seat of your pants...... oh, and chemistry!

Thanks everyone for visiting with me today and helping me make cherry jam.

Louise said...

Yum! I'll come over and have a bite. And if a Klondike bar is involved in the making, I might make some of my own!

Val said...

oh YUM!!I am so glad you posted this tutorial...I preordered cherries this year for the first time...um what kind of cherry pitter do you use? The pitting has me a bit concerned.

Suzanne said...

My neighbors lent me their cherry pitter and it worked like a dream. They bought it at a local housewares store and I believe it was made in Germany, although they said it wasn't expensive. Take a look at it in this post: