Canned At Last: Sour Cherries In Syrup
Tuesday, July 14, 2009
I don’t know why it took me so long to can. Despite websites, books, and blogs, I still didn’t have enough information. Despite the urging of friends, fellow CSA members, and writers here, I still didn’t have enough confidence. Despite, even, a family tradition of canning whole, skinned tomatoes and tomato sauce (i.e., “gravy”), I still didn’t have an urge to try it on my own. Yes, I did have an irrational fear of botulism, but, looking back, I think the real concern was drudgery. In my family, canning tomatoes required a dozen people, two stoves (plus a free-standing gas burner), innumerable bushels of tomatoes, and about twelve hours of your day (sometimes two). Of course, at our peak, we canned well over 1,000 quarts.
Recently, we were “burdened” (I use the term loosely) with three quarts of sour cherries. Even after we gorged on them and my wife made ice cream, we were still left with a quart. Having a bowl of lush, vibrantly red cherries staring at me and knowing that it would soon rot, I conquered my last reservations about canning.
I am exaggerating a little, as I had been reading the River Cottage Field Guide 2: Preserves. With straightforward explanations, beautiful pictures, interesting recipes, and an oddly-British nonchalance about the risk of food-born illness, it was a sufficient motivator on its own. Coupled with the cherries, I had no more excuse. One caveat: the guide uses the metric system measurements, so you will have to do your own conversions.
We preserved these cherries as a “bottled fruit:” we packed the cherries (still with their pits) in a light syrup (made by bringing honey and water to a boil) with some spices (whole cloves or cinnamon sticks) into sterilized jars, and then we put them in a water bath for 10 minutes. We allowed them to cool for twenty-four hours, all the while listening for the distinctive “pop” that means the jars have sealed. (Happily, they did.)
I was surprised at how simple the process was, and how little equipment we actually needed. We used a large stock pot with its pasta insert (filled with cold water), a saucier, a scale, a candy thermometer, and a pair of canning tongs designed for picking up scalding-hot jars. This last item may seem unnecessary, and I was certainly skeptical, but it was immensely useful for pulling jars out of boiling water. (We picked up our pair at a flea market for $5.) But that’s all - no pressure cooker, no canning pot, and no need for additional storage.
This experience was so pleasant that we’ve also canned beets, onions, and fennel. We still have plans for chutney, bottled peaches, plum jam, apple jam, caramelized onions, and, of course, tomatoes. We won’t be canning a 1,000 quarts anytime soon, though.