Cherry Jam

for those of you who have been asking how to thicken sour cherries into jam, i have some important information for you that may help---if not this year, for next year. it comes with a story i can't resist telling:

yesterday, i called a neighbor whose number was posted on a sign by the road advertising eggs and produce. i'm always on the prowl for fresh eggs and it's been several years since i've found a source in hope.

to my delight, walt menegus called me back saying he had a huge supply. we started talking baking and it turned out his wife maria bakes, cans, and happened to have a cherry pie sitting on the table at that very moment.

we wasted no time in driving over and what a paradise we discovered on hope crossing road, a road we traveled over a hundred times, never seeing what lay behind the pine trees! we were invited in for a piece of pie and to our mutual delight discovered that it was my recipe from a rodale cookbook to which i had contributed many years ago! 

the discovery happened in a very funny way: i had noticed currants growing outside and started mentioning that i do something very crazy with currant and cherries to which maria said: "oh i put currant in the pie--the recipe said to stuff each cherry but i wasn't about to do that." to which i said: "that sounds awfully like my recipe." she grabbed the book and there it was: "churrant pie" 

my editor for the "pie and pastry bible"  vetoed the idea saying it was just too over the top but when rodale press approached me a while later asking for a contribution and giving a list of fruits they would like to include, i noticed that both cherries and currants were on the list--opportunity struck!

it's not as crazy as you might think: i was trying to find a way to make cherries in the baked pie as plump as they appear in photos where they actually leave the pits in the accomplish this. my husband came up with the idea of currants to which i said "you're crazy!" but the more i thought about it the more interesting the idea became so i tried it: magic! the synergy of flavor was extraordinary and the currants did the trick of keeping the cherries plump. the extra juice seemed to burst in the mouth and never betray that any fruit other than cherries was present.

maria did a perfect execution of the pie and even though the currants were apparent they still added the delicious flavor and extra juiciness.

having discovered the synergy of flavor, i went on to think about what the currants would do for texture of cherry jam. sour cherries are very low in pectin and currants exceptionally high. i came up with a fabulous jam that i was going to put in the bread bible but ran out of space. so i'm saving it for the next book but since that won't be for a while, here it is now.  by the way, frozen currants and cherries work perfectly. Thaw them completely before proceeding.

by the way, maria gave me some very important information on making cherry jam using low sugar pectin: she uses the pomona universal pectin. their jam hotline is 413-772-6816 address p.o. box 1083, greenfield, ma. 01302

Makes: 2 half pint canning jars

pitted sour cherries/2 cups    11.5 ounces/326 grams
sugar/1-1/3 cups/9.4ounces/266 grams
fresh red currants, rinsed, then stemmed 2 cups/10.8 ounces/308 grams
water/1/4 liquid cup/2 ounces/59 grams
Equipment: A jelly bag and stand or large strainer lined with several layers of cheese-cloth, dipped in water and wrung well.
2 half pint canning jars

1) In a large non-reactive saucepan, preferably non-stick, combine the cherries and sugar.

2) In a small non-reactive saucepan, place the well-drained currants and the water. Mash the currants slightly. Bring the mixture to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

3) Spoon the mixture into the jelly bag and allow it to drip through.

4) Squeeze the bag or cloth. You should have at least 2/3 liquid cup of juice. If you have less, chances are the liquid evaporated during simmering so add enough to make 2/3 cup.

5) Add the currant juice to the cherry mixture and bring it to a boil, stirring constantly. Boil rapidly, stirring often, until the jelling point (about 8 minutes). Watch carefully, adjusting the heat, as it tends to bubble up and over. An accurate thermometer will read 221°F. at sea level. (225°F. is better for this jam) (For higher altitude, add 8°F. to the temperature at which water boils at your specific altitude.)  To test the jelling point without a thermometer, dip a cool metal spoon into the boiling juice. Just before the jelling point, when the spoon is lifted out of the boiling juice, the juice on the inside of the spoon will slowly come together and fall off in 2 drops. At the jelling point, these 2 drops will run together and slide off the spoon in a sheet. If 1 tablespoon of the boiling juices is placed on a chilled plate and frozen for 2 minutes it should wrinkle when gently pushed with a fingertip. (Be sure to remove the pan from the heat while testing this.)  Once the mixture reaches 225°F., turn the heat off immediately or over-jelling may occur and it will be necessary to add water, strain and reheat and the resulting jelly will not be quite as smooth.

6) As soon as the jelling point has been reached, pour the jam into a 2 cup sterilized heat-proof measure. You should have 2 scant cups--or pour the jam directly into the sterilized canning jar. (Otherwise, plunge the bottom of the pot in cold water to stop the cooking or it will continue to thicken.)

7) The preserves will keep refrigerated for about 2 weeks.  For longer storage you will need to can them in a water bath.

Sterilize the canning jars and lids with boiling water and fill, leaving 3/8 inch head space. Don't scrape the pan or it may cause lumping. (Straining won't help because it causes it to thin.)  Screw on the caps and place the jars in a water bath, covered, for 10 minutes after the water comes to a boil. Remove the jars and allow to cool before checking the seal. (When pressing on the center of the lid it will feel totally firm and unyielding.)

Pointers for Success
* The juices are very liquid until cool and during cooling, the cherries float to the top. They can be distributed evenly by inverting the jars every 30 minutes until barely warm--about 2 1/2 hours. At this point the liquid suddenly jells. It continues to thicken during the next 2 days of storage.
* It works best to make this jam in small quantities as the mixture boils up and needs a large pot so as not to overflow. Also it is easier to distribute the cherries evenly in smaller batches.
* Jars in the water bath must be sitting on a rack to allow the water to flow all around them and the water must be high enough to cover them by 1 inch. They must be upright to expel any air inside the jars, producing a vacuum which seals the jar. You may also invert the jars onto a folded towel until cool. (The air trapped in the head space will travel upwards through the hot preserves and be sterilized.)  
* Store in a cool dark area.

P.S. the icing on the cake was when walt took me into the hen house, and reached under two of the chickens to pull out some just laid eggs. i can't describe the feeling of holding those still warm eggs in my hands and knowing how wonderful they would taste for breakfast (they did they did!) walt even grows and makes the feed for the chickens. see what i mean about paradise?!