Pitifully Easy Cherry Preserves

Misc. / June 11, 2013

Isn’t it pretty? Dang, I didn’t know I could do it. Although I will admit, that as I was adding the lemon zest I felt a certain calmness about my eventual success. Can I tell you how fun it was?

Okay, truth moment: This is the FIRST TIME I have ever made jam. I have no idea why I had to be this old before I tried something so simple, but that’s just the nature of the beast. The prospect of it  was made possible by a string of recent confidence building food experiments, the fact that spring and fruit make you giddy, and because this little bag of cherries in the supermarket was literally begging me to take it home.

That’s how it starts, you know. Like a Sou Dr. Doolittle, I can talk to the celery…and the yogurt, and the orzo and they talk back. Whether it’s the supermarket or farmers market, you simply stroll along the aisles and suddenly you look down and there’s a bag of sweet, dark cherries in your cart, promising you a night of abandon and exhilaration. Well, I just had to give it a try!

Okay, we didn’t get ‘at it’ right away, there was foreplay. My fingernails are still a bit tattooed with purple juice, but really, pitting a cherry isn’t complicated, it just takes a long time. And if you need to meditate, this is the perfect task.

Because I don’t have 7 children or a zucchini garden I tend to do things in small batches the first time. I bought the small canning jars, 12 in all, expecting to use only about 5 or so. In the end, I only filled three and all who have tasted have made me promise to make more. Anyway, sometimes you learn best by muddling through.

First of all, there are LOTS of YouTube and Blog videos about making preserves, and a lot of them range from maddening to vague, with only a few punctuated with the kind of help a self made cook really needs. So hopefully my learning curve will help you. If you’re interested, I chose to use a recipe from a blog by David Lebovitz. It’s great and very simple. When I read his blog I knew he was my kind of mentor, especially when he talked about learning to do this without a perfect recipe. You go Dave.

Next, it’s important that you have everything out and ready to go. This happens FAST and you will want things at your fingertips. I’ll get to the tools as well as the ingredients in the recipe below.

Finally, go buy a loaf of ciabatta bread now, ’cause you are GONNA WANT this slathered on it the next morning when you make french toast.

Cherry preserves


1, 3 lb bag cherries. Sweet and dark is good but sour and light works too. You can even combine them. And if you want more cherries, bring ’em all to the party.

White, granulated sugar (You will need 3/4 the amount of cooked fruit.)

1/8 C FRESH lemon juice (I don’t even want to SEE one of those fake lemon containers in your fridge.

Zest from one lemon.

1 T Grand Marnier (you knew it, didn’t you.)


  • Sterilize the jars and lids. I just run them through my dishwasher. It’s okay if when you take them out and fill them they’re hot. So is that blazing red syrup you’re putting in them.
  • Now. Get a roll of paper towels close at hand, a good, sharp paring knife, and for heaven’s sake, wear black. Wash cherries thoroughly, remove stems. Cut each cherry in half, like you would do if you were going to pit an avocado. Peel off one side. Dig out the pit with the knife and place the two halves in a bowl. (Sometimes it’s not two halves, sometimes its 5 pieces, but it doesn’t matter. Just start stacking them up.) Now, chop 3/4ths of them into smaller pieces and leave the last 1/4 a little larger. Not as big as halves, just not mince-meat.
  • Place in a large, deep dutch oven. (I LOVE using my cast iron pot.) add the lemon juice. Cook over moderately low head until the back of your spatula is kind of covered in thin syrup and they’re all nice and soft, like they would be if you were cooking cranberries for Turkey Day. Now, take them back out and measure them. For me I ended up with cherries AND syrup close to 3 cups. Now, measure out 3/4 that amount of sugar. Put the fruit back in the pan, add the sugar and the lemon zest and before the magic begins there’s one more task. Okay, take a small glass plate and place it in the freezer. It is our cheat plate to test when our concoction is done. Now, turn the heat on almost to high, get your best wooden spatula, make sure no one is going to run in your kitchen asking you to take a phone call, sign for a package, or switch TV channels.
  • The next 7 minutes belongs to your pot. Stir in the sugar and keep cooking, and you’ll see it all come to a rolling boil. You don’t want a violent boil, just keep it going. Stir for about 4 minutes and the mixture should start to show less bubbles and a little bit of thickening. Take the pot off the stove, pull out the plate, and put a bit on the syrup on the plate and back in the freezer. This is now the moment you can change the channel for any helpless people in your home, or to put the towels in the drier. Now, back at it. After about 4 minutes, check the freezer. When you nudge the syrup, does it kind of wrinkle and hold? If not, cook the syrup a bit longer, 2 to 3 minutes and check again. It will probably be good the second time. Now we’re not looking for a rubbery consistency, just a bit of a wrinkle.
  • Guess what. You’re DONE! Take the pot of yumminess and add that dash of Grand Marnier. It REALLY brings out the depth of flavor and it sounds fun when you’re telling people what your secret ingredient is. Okay, place in jars with about 1/2 inch room at the top, and seal tightly. You can, at this point, move to a water bath and seal so you can store for a long time. But this isn’t going to last, ’cause it’s waay too awesome, so I just let them sit on the counter for about 3 hours until they’re not hot, and then you put them in the fridge.
  • They’ll last for about 2 to 3 months. If they do, you have serious issues about avoidance. I’m telling ya, the next morning the ciabatta will do all the talking and you’ll be smacking your lips!

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