Sunday, January 17, 2010

Sour Cherry Jam

I have just made my best batch of sour cherry jam ever! Some years I have overcooked it so it tasted like toffee and sat in lumps on the toast; last year I undercooked it so it ran down your fingers when you tried to eat it.

A couple of days ago we picked several ice cream containers full of cherries. That's the best part of the process: working in the shade of gnarled old trees, admiring the contrast of red against brown and green.

Then I waited until I had the time to complete the project. Yesterday afternoon I decided that the time and the cherries were both ripe. I have a stiff neck at the moment, perhaps because I am reading Hilary Mantel's Booker Prize winning book, Wolf Hall, and though I'm enjoying it a lot, it is a very heavy book. To avoid any neck strain I sat myself up on a high stool and decided I would only make a few jars. Maybe because I never seem to get it right or maybe because it's not the sweetest jam I make, I'm really my best customer for it anyway.

First I had to pit the fruit. I couldn't get any volunteers to help with the work so I plugged my iPod into my ears and listened to podcasts while I got the wood stove nice and hot. I use an unbent paper clip because I find it much more effective than my store-bought cherry pipper.

Because whole cherries tend to fall off the toast I cut all the fruit into small pieces before putting them into a pot to soften on a slow heat. At this time I added the juice and grated rind of one and a half lemons. Why that number? Because that's what I had and because last year I had a lot of trouble getting the jam to set, and I think it's because one lemon isn't quite enough. I was also very patient softening the cherries because although I hate to see them lose their shape, they do make better jam if they are really soft. This took about half an hour.

Then I measured the quantity I had in the pot, including the juice, and asked Farmdoc to work out how much three-quarters of that amount would be (because I am innumerate), and that's how much sugar I added. I stirred the cherries until the sugar dissolved and then cooked it over high heat. While this was happening I put the small white saucer that I call my jam plate into the freezer. This was pretty hot work because I managed to get the stove's temperature up quite high and I had to stand over it and stir the fruit pretty constantly.

When the bubbles subsided somewhat and the jam began to thicken a little, I took it off the stove and put a spoonful of jam on the cold plate and put it back in the freezer. After a couple of minutes I pushed the blob with my finger and when it didn't wrinkle, I returned the pot to the stove to cook some more. I actually had to do this a couple of times, each time removing the pot while I waited to see if the jam was cooked. I think this is where I usually go wrong. I was nervous about overcooking it and caramelising the sugar, but I was also anxious to make sure it was jam and not syrup. Once I felt it was done I poured it into my sterilised jars and covered them tightly.

This morning I couldn't wait to try some on my breakfast Weetbix. It was perfect! Yay!

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