When life hands you cherries…
I suppose the punchline should be “make cherry lemonade,” but it’s not.
Last year it was blueberries, this year it’s cherries. Fortunately, we were slightly more restrained this time, buying only 6 pounds of the most fragrant sour cherries we could find at the Guelph Farmers’ Market to see what they would inspire.
When we got them home, they began to deteriorate quickly, even after we put them in the fridge. (And the ones we threw out along the way were quickly adopted by our local fruit flies, who eventually converted our whole garbage can into a fruit fly nursery.)
Anyway, we had to act fast. First, I asked my husband to make a clafoutis, a traditional French dessert that’s sort of like a cross between a cherry cake and a very thick crêpe. We soon followed that with cherry sorbet, using the method described by Thomas Keller in the Bouchon cookbook. The sorbet was amazing, with excellent flavour, a great balance of sweet and tart, and a wonderful texture.
Lastly, I decided to try my hand at making jam. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve always been hesitant to do any home canning, not out of a fear that the jam itself would be hard to make, but because I was intimidated by the workflow of sterilizing, filling and processing the jars. Plus I’m a germophobe, so I was more than a little worried about accidentally making people sick.
I had trouble finding a recipe that I liked, ultimately deciding on this one from Gourmet. We followed the directions to a T, except that we made only a partial batch, but I ended up slightly disappointed with the outcome. Why? Because it didn’t set! So much for the jam itself not being hard to make.
Here’s the thing. Pectin comes in two basic varieties: low-methoxy and high-methoxy. High-methoxy pectin requires a certain level of sugar and acidity to form a gel, whereas low-methoxy requires the presence of calcium. The recipe, despite having enough sugar to form a gel with high-methoxy pectin, calls for “lower-sugar pectin,” which is the low-methoxy variety. (Retail low-sugar pectin contains a calcium salt providing the requisite calcium.) At first, I assumed that the problem was the type of pectin, and that using regular high-methoxy pectin would set things right.
In fact, the problem turned out to be a semantic one: The recipe is for “preserves,” which I always thought was a synonym for “jam,” only with larger chunks of fruit. However, I’ve since heard that “preserves” refers to whole pieces of fruit in thick syrup. So maybe it did set as much as the recipe writers intended, and the pectin was simply used to thicken the syrup, rather than gel it outright.
We ended up with 5 jars of — ahem — preserves, and I was right that it is a lot of work to sterilize, fill and process the jars, even though my husband very gamely gave me a lot of help. I’m not one to be daunted in the kitchen, though, and it occurred to me that sterilizing 15 jars can’t be much more work than sterilizing 8, so I’m going to try again later in the summer, with a larger batch of another fruit.
Since originally publishing this post, I’ve taken to making many different kinds of jams and jellies. The process just gets easier as you get used to it! My favourites, after these cherry preserves, are blackcurrant and Concord grape. Do you make your own jams? What are your favourite kinds to make?
(A version of this post was originally published July 24, 2007 at http://everythingfromscratch.blogspot.com/2007/07/when-life-hands-you-cherries.html)