I’m sure you’ve seen the mountains of beautiful cherries at Orange County farmers markets. Feast on them fresh while they last—Trish Harrison, manager of four O.C. markets including the county’s largest in Irvine on Saturdays, says the season is expected to run through the end of June. (Read more about Trish here.) Cherry enjoyment can be extended by preserving some, and I’ve got just the recipe, from Orange Coast Senior Editor Chris Christensen: Whole Cherry Preserves. Gorgeous to look at and sophisticated in flavor, it’s perfect for stocking your pantry now for later gift-giving and entertaining. (Or entering the OC Fair’s culinary competition…) Chris gave me a jar of hers last Christmas and I’ve been waiting for cherry season to share the recipe.
When I was Food Editor at The Oregonian, a staffer gave me this recipe, cautioning that it makes a very “soft” preserve. Cherries are naturally low in pectin, so in order for them to gel when cooked with only sugar or honey, they must be simmered long and slow over very low heat. But it’s an exquisite recipe, worthy of your time. During cooking, the cherries become profoundly sweet and chewy, and every spoonful tastes like fruit and sun reduced to a single flavor.
I love them over vanilla ice cream, with a drizzle of dark chocolate sauce. They’re also wonderful spooned over a tangy goat cheese, or in a goat cheese spread. Sometimes I drop one, with a spoonful of the liquid, into a flute of bubbly. But they’re also fantastic eaten from the jar, as needed, to make your day.—Chris Christensen
Whole Cherry Preserves
(Makes about 4 pints)
2 pounds ripe sweet cherries, such as Bing or Lambert
3 ½ cups granulated sugar
2 cups water
1 star anise
2 tablespoons honey
Discard any blemished cherries. Remove and discard stems. Remove pits. With some varieties, this can be done by simply squeezing the fruit until the pit pops out, leaving the cherry whole. However, other varieties have more tenacious pits and require use of a cherry pitter. Another method is to slit the cherry open with a knife and pick out the pit. I use a pitter because I prefer the cherries whole and undamaged. Set pitted cherries aside.
Put sugar and water in large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until sugar dissolves—5 or 10 minutes. Add star anise and simmer over low heat 15 minutes, stirring from time to time. Remove star anise and stir in pitted cherries and honey. Raise heat and bring to boil.
When boiling is reached, reduce heat to low and simmer about 1 ¾ hours, increasing heat to medium-low after about 1 ½ hours. Be careful preserves do not scorch.
Meanwhile, prepare 8 half-pint or 4 pint jars and lids according to safe canning guidelines, and keep hot until needed. Read a canning refresher or instructions for beginners here. (This recipe may fall short of filling all the jars.)
After first 45 minutes of cooking, begin to occasionally test for gel point with thermometer. Remember, preserves will gel best when you cook them long and slow, so don’t be tempted to hurry the process. Remove from heat when temperature is 220 degrees at sea level to 1,000 feet. (Subtract 2 degrees for each 1,000 additional feet in elevation: 218 at 1,000 feet; 216 at 2,000 feet; 214 at 3,000 feet; 212 at 4,000 feet; 211 at 5,000 feet; 209 at 6,000 feet; 207 at 7,000 feet; 205 at 8,000 feet.)
Ladle hot preserves into prepared jars, leaving ¼-inch head space. Process pints or half-pints in boiling-water bath for 10 minutes (15 minutes at 1,000 to 6,000 feet; 20 minutes above 6,000 feet).
Adapted from “The Glass Pantry” by Georgeanne Brennan.