Michigan Tart Cherries – The Most Wonderful Time of Year

Tart cherry season here in Michigan has been open for about two weeks. Last weekend we made a family outing of picking cherries and raspberries. The picking was easy because the fruit was very plentiful. If the family hadn’t spent more time arguing than picking, we probably would have been done a lot sooner, but then it just wouldn’t have been a true “family” outing if that were the case.

DSCF5170

Why is it that we can’t have just one family outing where everyone gets along? If I go out with Grace alone or Zeb alone or Hubby alone, everything is great. We have a good time, we laugh, we relate, we make some great memories. Throw anyone else into the mix though and it’s a constant battle. There’s teasing and picking on, ganging up, and bullying. By the end, actually it doesn’t even take that long, at least someone isn’t talking, someone is grumpy, and I’m left wondering why I even suggested we go out as a family!

The silence was deafening!

The silence was deafening!

I thought as the kids got older they’d mellow and we’d fall into an easy, getting-along stage. At ages 20 and 22, we haven’t gotten there yet. Perhaps Hubby at 53 and me at 48 are the problem. Who knows?

Actually though, for all the fighting and bantering, I wouldn’t have wanted to leave anyone home. While they all got into their little tiffs and exchanges of words, I kept my distance and enjoyed the day with each of them individually. I didn’t dare try to converse with more than one of them at a time. Separately they were fine. It was just as a group things weren’t going to mesh. So when we got home Grace wasn’t speaking to Hubby, Hubby wasn’t speaking to Zeb, and everyone was still speaking to me. That works for me!

Oh well, what’s the saying “This too shall pass.” I sure hope so. Growing pains aren’t much fun on family outings or vacations.

With the 20 pounds of cherries we managed to pick I’ve been busy canning. Recipes for Danish Cherry Sauce and Cherry-Rhubarb Pie Filling can be found at Simply Grateful Canning. I’ve also updated the Fruit Page to include sections for all the recipes from Simply Grateful Housewife and Simply Grateful Canning for Sweet Cherry Canning Recipes and Tart Cherry Canning Recipes. Check them out if you need some ideas for canning either of these fruits.

Michigan cherries are some of the best and picking them every year has become a tradition for me. It’s unfortunate the family couldn’t set aside their differences and make the most of the time we had together, but I didn’t let them ruin it for me. Family dynamics aren’t always easy, but taking them in stride helps ease the pain a bit, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Advertisements

2015 Michigan Cherry Recipes #5 – Raspberry-Cherry Preserves

Although raspberries are not my favorite summer fruit, I do like to can with them when I can combine them with other fruits. Combining them with some sweet cherries seemed like a good idea. The sweetness of the cherries I hoped would tone down the tart, distinct flavor of the raspberries.

Raspberry-Cherry Preserves

DSCF9940

2 Cups Seedless Raspberry Pulp

4 Cups Sweet Cherries, pitted and coarsely chopped in food processor

3 Cups Sugar

1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

4 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 4 Tbsp. Water

  • Combine raspberry pulp and coarsely chopped sweet cherries in large stock pot. Add sugar and lemon juice. Cook over medium heat until sugar is dissolved.
  • Increase heat to medium-high and add Clear Jel slurry. Bring to boil and boil for one minute.
  • Remove from heat, ladle into hot jars, and process in water bath for 10 minutes.

This preserve proved to be a good combination of sweet and tart. Some raspberries can be very sweet, but I have always found them to have a tartness to them regardless. Using twice the amount of cherries as raspberry pulp helped tone down the dominating flavor of the raspberries and allowed the two fruits to meld into a mouth-watering preserve.

Michigan cherries are by far my favorite fruit to can. 2015 has thus far been a good year for canning and definitely a good year for cherries, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

2015 Michigan Cherry Recipes #2 – Tart Cherry Preserves

The difference between a preserve and a jam is basically how big the pieces of fruit are. The larger piece recipes would be classified as preserves while finer, more processed pieces of fruit would be considered jam.

To make a tart cherry preserve for use in cookies, pastries, yogurt, crepes, donuts, and cakes, I first stem and pit the cherries. Then I coarsely chop them in the food processor. Some of the pieces are fine, but the majority are still chunky and there is even an occasional full cherry to be found.

Tart Cherry Preserves

DSCF9936

12 Cups Pitted/Stemmed Tart Cherries

4 Cups Sugar

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice

1/2 Cup Clear Jel mixed with 1/2 Cup Water

  • Pit and stem cherries. Place prepared cherries in small batches in food processor and pulse three or four times being sure not to turn into a puree. Doing this in small batches ensures that you won’t have to over-process the batch in order to chop all the fruit.
  • Place chopped cherries in a large stock pot with any juice produced. Add sugar and lemon juice and bring to near boil over medium heat.
  • Turn heat up to medium-high and add Clear Jel slurry. Bring to boil and boil for 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and ladle into hot, sterilized jars. Process in water bath canner for 10 minutes.

This recipe will make between 16 and 18 – 8 oz. jars. I actually got 22 jars because prior to canning the final batch I added some frozen cranberries and a bit more sugar. I brought this back up to a boil and then processed as above. This gave me yet another preserve for the pantry shelf – Cran-Cherry Preserves.

DSCF9934

Tart cherry preserves are something we never seem to have enough of. This is used more often than any other preserve in our home, especially during the holidays. With 22 jars safely tucked away in the pantry, we should be good until next year, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

2015 Michigan Cherry Recipes #1 – Very Cherry Pie Filling

Making cherry pie filling is the one “absolute” every year when Michigan tart cherries come in. No matter how good or bad the picking is, it is a must to pick at least 10 pounds so we’ll have one pie to enjoy right away and a few jars of filling in the pantry for winter.

After making my standard Tart Cherry Pie Filling for the pantry, this year I decided to switch it up and try a few fruit combinations with tart cherries as the base.

The first combination I decided to try was a take off of one of the families favorite new jams from 2014 – Very Cherry Jam. This jam combined both sweet and tart cherries for a wonderfully sweet jam with just the right touch of tartness. I wasn’t sure how this would work in a pie filling, as I’d never had a pie made with sweet cherries. I have heard of cherry pies made exclusively with sweet cherries so I figured combining these with the tart could cushion the sweetness and make it a winner.

Very Cherry Pie Filling

DSCF9946

7 pounds Fresh Pitted/Stemmed Tart Cherries

7 pounds Fresh Pitted/Stemmed Sweet Cherries

5 Cups Sugar

1 1/4 Cup Clear Jel mixed with 1 Cup Water

8 Cups Cherry Water/Juice

1/2 Cup Lemon Juice

  • Rinse and pit cherries. Blanch cherries in boiling water for one minute. Drain, reserving water/juice, and keep heated in covered stock pot.
  • Combine Clear Jel slurry, lemon juice and sugar in stock pot with 8 cups of reserved cherry water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat until it thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat. Fold in drained cherries.
  • Fill jars with filling, leaving a one-inch head space. Adjust lids and process in water bath for 25 minutes.

I canned five quarts and five pints of this pie filling and used the remaining to make a pie. We didn’t even wait for it to cool before cutting into it.

IMG_5776

This pie was awesome! The combination of tart and sweet cherries and the different textures that both of them brought kept our mouths watering while we ate it. Definitely a keeper!

Tart cherries are probably my favorite fruit to can especially when combining them with other fruits. This recipe is only the beginning, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.

Canning Cherries – The Real Work’s In The Prep

Before deciding if you want to can cherries or not, it is important to realize that canning them is the easy part. Most of the work involved in canning cherries, or any fruit for that matter, is in the preparation. Cherries especially are a labor intensive fruit and one where time is of the essence.

Obviously the first step in any canning prep is to get your fruit. Not everyone is going to be able to head out to their backyard or a local farm to pick their fruit of choice, but if you are one of the lucky ones, this is where the work begins.

IMG_5758

When picking cherries the most important rule to remember is LEAVE THE STEMS ON. Yes, it would go much faster and be a whole lot easier to just pull the cherries from the branches leaving the stems on the tree, and drop them in your bucket/flat, but this is a definite no-no. Cherries, especially tart ones, have a short shelf life and unless you are planning on heading home immediately after picking and canning them within a few hours, the fruit will begin to brown, soften, and even if refrigerated spoil. Believe me on this, I’ve been there.

IMG_5762

The first time I picked cherries I had no idea there was a certain way of doing it. I yanked the cherries off the tree, paying no mind to the stems and by the time I got home, they were already beginning to wilt and when I went to can them the next day, jam was my only option. Sweet cherries fare a bit better but unless you plan on using them in jam or jelly where it doesn’t matter how firm the fruit is, you had better plan on using the fruit immediately.

IMG_5764

Grace and I picked nearly 20 pounds of tart cherries in a three hour period. Upon arriving home, I was too exhausted from our outing to jump into a canning project, so the cherries sat on the counter over night. In the morning the cherries were just as fresh as when we’d picked them, except for a few that had lost their stems. The stemless cherries had already begun to blacken at the top and were much softer.

DSCF9889

When you are ready to begin working with your cherries, work in small batches, only what you plan on using for your recipe, and remove the stems.

DSCF9905

Next, rinse the cherries. This is important to do at this stage because the integrity of the fruit has not yet been compromised and washing the fruit wont wash away any of the wonderful juice.

DSCF9908

Once the cherries are rinsed and drained, it’s time for the pitting. I am very fortunate to have a pretty good cherry pitter that attaches to my counter and has a hopper to place a large handful of cherries in and quickly pits large quantities of cherries quickly.

DSCF9911

Before I found this wonderful gadget I used a hand pitter like the one shown below. I still use this when pitting small quantities for salads or lunches, but for the most part it sits dormant along with the antique pitter I happened upon at an estate sale a few years ago.

DSCF9913

Now that your cherries are pitted, you can begin your canning or cooking project. To prepare enough cherries for one batch of cherry pie filling, it took me nearly two hours. The canning part took about another hour, including processing time in the water bath canner.

DSCF9914

Unless canning pie filling, you can use the fruit immediately after pitting. If using for pie filling however, you will need to blanch the fruit for 1 minute in boiling water prior to canning. This helps preserve the color and the water used provides any additional liquid needed to add to the cherry juice you’ve managed to collect for the foundation of the canning gel.

My father happened to come by before I began working on our cherries and mentioned that he would like to make a pie himself. Taking the hint, I pulled out a bowl and began filling it with cherries. He looked at me and said, “Well, I don’t want cherries, but I’ll take some cherry pie filling after you make it.”

Now if you could have seen my face you would have noticed that the color drained from my cheeks and my lips pierced. I simply answered, “Oh” and put the cherries back in the bowl.

Perhaps I’m being a bit stingy here, but it takes between 9 and 10 pounds of unstemmed/unpitted cherries to make enough pie filling for maybe three pies. I’d have to pick three times what we picked in order to start handing out pie filling like I hand out jam. Needless to say, he will not be receiving any jars of our highly coveted tart cherry pie filling, but I’ll certainly invite him over for a piece or two.

I share all our jams, jellies, preserves, spreads, concentrates, and the like, with our family and friends without hesitation. When it comes to pie filling though, I draw the line. Pie filling is something I share when I make a pie and enjoy eating it right along with them, not something I just hand out so they can take it home.

Knowing what you are getting into before starting a project takes a lot of the stress out of the mix. Realizing how much work really goes into making a cherry pie can change your perspective on thinking that “pie” might not be as impressive a dessert as cake. My mother-in-law made the comment to me years ago, “Pie looks cheap when you serve it.” She told me this when I served pumpkin and apple pies for dessert on Thanksgiving. Gotta love your in-laws! — NOT! Well, pie IS decadent and any time someone wants to serve me a homemade pie, I’ll gladly accept a slice.

Cherry season in Michigan is quickly coming to a close, but we have cherries for canning and for this I am — Simply Grateful.