Did you go nuts with your cherry picking this year? Or, are you cherry trees just continuing to produce? Save those tasty treats for later in the year by learning a few ways to preserve cherries.
It occurred to me that we hadn’t preserved cherries in any way for several years and so, with Daddy miraculously home on a Saturday, we drove down to a U-Pick cherry farm. U-Pick enterprises are such a great idea, in my opinion. If you want to save a bit of money by picking product yourself (our cherries cost us $.75/lb and we picked nearly 100 lbs – have I mentioned my proportion problems?) and you want to involve your family in the picking process then go find a farm near you at www.pickyourown.org. I’m a big fan of farmer’s markets and of large, family gardens but there’s something exciting about u-pick enterprises; there’s a unique charm to meeting family farmers and scuttling up their trees and orchard ladders. My kids think the whole thing is one big scavenger hunt and I must admit that us grown ups get caught up in the excitement, too. My children are used to being hauled thither and yon for a “picking experience” and they’re good sports about toting home so many pounds of fruit that we spend the next several days figuring out ways to preserve cherries.
Preparing Cherries to Preserve
Cherries are great to preserve because they require so little work, comparatively speaking. Ok, ok, you have to pit them but that’s true of any stone fruit and we love our canned peaches, right? Cherries are simply a gorgeous fruit and they’re so beautiful to can whole that all you have to manage is the pitting process and a few water baths in your canner. Growing up, we had two huge cherry trees in our backyard; we always had some kind of tomato and zucchini stuck in the ground somewhere but it’s those two Bing-type cherry trees that I remember the best. We spent several weeks in late spring hand-pitting thousands of cherries – that’s right, a knife and our little hands did all the work. The mounds of cherries would slowly disappear as we laughed and complained together; we were pittin’ machines!
As an adult, I graduated to a hand-held cherry pitter and this year, a friend loaned me a cherry stoner, which was fabulous! The Bing cherries we picked were just the right size for the stoner (as an old Californian, I always laugh when I say that – they’re really mellow cherries, man). My sour cherries were a little too small to make the stoner as effective, although I used it anyway because it was so fun to mash the lever and punch out the pit – it makes a very satisfying squishy sound.
Sour Cherry or Sweet Cherry
I couldn’t imagine what I’d use those sour cherries for as they were pretty much inedible straight from the tree (we inherited a sour and a sweet yellow cherry with the house we live in now); I thought I’d have to pour copious amounts of sugar into the pot just to make the preserves palatable. It turns out, sour cherries make awesome preserves with just the right balance of tart to blend in with the sweet. Sour cherries (sometimes called pie cherries) are smaller than sweet cherries so you’ll need more of them for baking into a pie. One really neat thing about sour cherries, if you’re growing them in your backyard, is that they’re self fertile so you only need to plant one to get fruit.
In the past, we’ve used honey, succanat, agave, raw and regular table sugar in various jams and preserves and they all have their merit. (Except table sugar which should never be consumed by humans. Or lab rats. Or street rats.) This time we used an organic cane sugar – a little more processed than succanat but a little less toxic than table sugar. I use the Pomonas pectin and the first batch I made I just eyeballed it – I’m notorious for doing that and it’s a habit you shouldn’t get into! Read the recipe and you’ll be fine, I tell myself, but my inner devil tells me that recipes are for sissies.
As with most fruit, cherries can be preserved in a water bath canner, which takes a lot less time than a pressure cooker. We canned whole cherries in light, cherry juice syrup, as well as cherry pie filling and cherry preserves. We also made a cherry ice cream topping – which is the fancy name I usually give to that one batch of jam that refuses to set up (probably because I thought I’d be a measuring rebel).
We also dehydrated nine racks of the ruby beauties at a living foods setting (below 115 degrees) – oh wow, are those good in salads and breads or straight out of your hand! We also gave several gallon bags away to friends and ate several ourselves; not mention the cherry pie and breakfast cake and the bags of frozen ones we have tucked away for smoothies. We never managed to get sick of eating them raw and will be pleased to eat them come Washington’s birthday in February – no doubt while it snows. Raw is always better but home canned produce beats store bought any day.
Local agricultural extensions often give classes in canning and you can Google for online courses – most of which are free. Follow instructions, don’t freak about your imperfections and remember that if it smells gross when you open it, you’re not going to pop it in your mouth. You’re a very smart person.
A word on worms when you’re contemplating ways to preserve cherries – ok, cherries get worms something fierce. Accept that and move on. I’m an organic grower and so stuff like that doesn’t freak me out nearly as much as some other things do (snakes, for instance – they can move, but they don’t have any legs. That’s just wrong.). However, no one likes to dig worms out of their preserves; its just not appetizing. There are lots of methods of control – spray, lures, more spray, more lures, nuclear blast. A great book for anyone with orchards of any size is this one – it includes anything you’ll ever need to know about maintaining fruit trees in a backyard setting.
All last year, I ran my chickens in my orchard hoping that they’d help keep down emerging nasty bugs from turning into adult moths and flies come spring. It took care of our emerging worms but not our neighbors’ and I didn’t get around to spraying and we lost all our yellow cherries – which, incidentally, the birds don’t bother much because of their color. We’ve had some worms in our sour cherries (with no spray) and there were some in the sweet cherries (with pheromone lures) but we just picked them out and gave them to the chickens who were very appreciative. My three year old kept calling them cute – “Look, mamma, I found another little worm; isn’t he cuuuuute?!” Uh, yeah, adorable, Sweetie – now squish him.
Bottom line, nothing is perfect, but ripe cherries come as close as you can expect on a Saturday morning in June.
If you’d love to learn more about this and other DIY habits for the homestead, please visit my friend Kathie’s course page at Homespun Seasonal Living; she’s teaching a summer course called Fiercely DIY where you’ll learn everything from food preservation to foraging to herbs and all online, at your pace. Click on the ad below to learn more…
For a few yummy ideas on ways to preserve cherries and how to bake with them, please visit:
To get you started on your cherry preserving adventures, you may need these fine products:
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