Ah, jam-making, that hobby that only people who live lives of leisure can partake in. I made my first jams recently, and goodness gracious but they take a long time and a lot of patience! It’s not something I generally have in spades, but by my third jam, I felt like I got pretty good at it. We’ll just not talk about the first one.
On Sunday I visited my friend Arinn at the market where she works as a florist. One of the market vendors had given her pounds upon pounds of slightly imperfect (read: still amazing) BC rainier cherries. She couldn’t even hope to use all of them so she gave half to me. Exciting!
Rainier cherries are the golden-coloured, mildly-flavoured variety of this incredible summer fruit. BC, where we live, is a fantastic cherry growing province; they really flourish in the Okanagan, and come this point in summer, I find I’m almost cherried-out. How can that happen?! Cherries are so amazing! But, after eating several hundred cherries, I found that I simply wanted to make jam with them.
Of course, upon looking it up, I realized that jam has RIDICULOUS amounts of sugar in it. Um, I am not so into that, guys. I can’t justify putting more sugar than fruit in a pot, and frankly I just don’t want to eat that. The jams I ended up with are less firmly set than the jam you’d get in a store, because the pectin is supposed to interact with copious amounts of sugar in order to set. But I really liked the texture I got from using only a cup of sugar and half a package of pectin.
Now, pitting cherries is a giant pain in the behind. If you don’t have a cherry pitter (and I don’t), I recommend setting yourself up in front of a movie. Use a curved paring knife if you have one and remember to always cut away from yourself. Halve the cherries and remove the pits and stems. I got cherry juice all over the floor and my feet and clothes, so think about lining the floor with newspaper or simply washing it after… and wear an apron.
Rainier Cherry and Similkameen Wild Sage Jam
Earlier in the month I visited the Similkameen Valley, a desert region of BC near the US/Canada border. We picked oodles of wild sage – a very fragrant wild herb – and I had some drying in my kitchen. I thought that sage and cherries would be very autumny and complementary. I had a few dark red bing cherries in the fridge as well so I threw those in to this batch of jam – really, only about 6 of them, and what a colour difference they made.
4 cups rainier cherries, pitted and halved
Juice of 1 large lemon – about 2 – 3 tbsp – be careful about the seeds
1+ tbsp sage leaves – I used mine semi-dried, but you could use dry or fresh
1 cup sugar
1/2 package liquid pectin (about 45 mL)
Once you’ve pitted and halved your cherries, put them in a pot. Or pit them into a pot. Add the lemon juice and cook over medium heat until it starts to bubble. Maintain that heat, stirring occasionally, until the cherries soften – about 25 minutes. Add the sage toward the middle of this cooking process.
Smush some of the cherries with the back of your spoon, or, if you’re lazy like me, use a hand blender to cream about half of the cherries once they’ve cooked down to softness. If you don’t smush the cherries, there will be big round chunks in your jam.
Once the cherries are soft, add the sugar 1/2 cup at a time. Stir to dissolve. Cook for another couple of minutes, then add the pectin, and stir to dissolve. Cook for another 5 minutes, stirring often enough to keep it from burning. You can turn down the heat to a simmer at this point.
Now you’ll have to test for jelly point. Dip a metal spoon in – if the jam coats the back of the spoon, you’re in business. You can use the spoon drip method, or the plate method. For the plate method, chill a small plate in the freezer for two minutes, then put a spoonful of the jam on it. It should not spread out like water – it should hold together a bit. Chill it in the fridge for 5 minutes (or the freezer for 2 minutes), then push your finger into it. If it wrinkles, it’s ready. If it’s not ready, cook for another 5 minutes, then try again.
Once your jam is done, transfer it into jars. You should either seal them immediately while it’s still hot, or wait for the jam to cool entirely. Afterward, you can freeze the jars, or you can heat-seal them using boiling water – fill a large pot up with water enough to cover the jars by 1cm. (Obviously test while the jars are in the pot.) With the jars in the pot, heat the water up to a boil and boil for about ten minutes. Remove from the water and let them cool.
I got a bit less than a litre of jam.