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

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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.

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2015 Michigan Cherry Recipes #3 – Very Cherry Syrup

Is there a rule out there that says a syrup can’t be chunky? If a syrup is by definition a liquid, then chunks of fruit in it must make it a sauce, right?

A sauce can be a “semi-solid food” which chunks of pureed fruit could qualify for, but perhaps with so much fruit in it, a spread would be a better description.

Spreads are just as they imply, food that is literally spread, usually with a knife. But this “syrup” can actually be poured right out of the bottle.

I have no idea what you would really call this, so unless you are a real stickler about what makes a syrup, a sauce, a spread — and let’s not even open up the whole can of worms about the possibility this is a preserve or jam — I’m calling this on a syrup. Mainly because that is exactly what I made it to be used as. It can on pancakes, crepes, French toast, waffles, ice cream and any other place you would use a syrup.

Of course, it’s great on toast too — but let’s not start that again.

Very Cherry Syrup

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2 1/2 Pounds Unpitted Sweet Cherries

3 Pounds Unpitted Tart Cherries

4 Cups Sugar

3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice

4 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed with 4 Tbsp. Water

  • Stem and pit cherries. Place cherries in small batches in food processor and process until fruit is in very small pieces. The 5 1/2 pounds of combined cherries yielded 9 cups of pureed pulp.
  • Put cherry pulp in large stock pot. Add sugar and lemon juice and heat over medium heat until near boil. Add Clear Jel slurry and bring to boil. Boil 1 minute. Remove from heat.
  • Ladle syrup into hot jars, seal, and process in water bath canner for 15 minutes.

What I really like about this recipe is that if I really wanted a true syrup and/or spread, all I would have to do is strain out the pulp after pureeing the fruit in the food processor. Then I could make a traditional syrup with the liquid and a true spread with the pulp. This year however I decided to be a rebel and make a chunky syrup that can be used pretty much as any/all of the above.

I love the versatility of canning and coming up with new and fun recipes. Using both sweet and tart cherries was only the beginning when it came to this endeavor, 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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Michigan Cherries — I Nearly Missed Them

Freshly Picked Michigan Tart Cherries

Freshly Picked Michigan Tart Cherries

I’m not sure what’s worse. Getting information that’s wrong, or getting information too late.

A few weeks ago when I went strawberry picking I asked the orchard when Michigan tart cherries would be in. They told me not until mid-July. I also asked them how the crop looked. They told me it looked pretty good.

Yesterday I got an email from the orchard, thank goodness I’m on their email list, announcing that Michigan cherries had been hit very hard by the harsh winter. Because of this, there would be no sweet cherries this year and tart cherry season would open today. Further, they stated that tart cherries would be open for only a few days.

So much for any plans I had today. Immediately upon reading the email, I told the kids we were getting up early, heading out to the orchard and picking what we could. My goal was 30 pounds but the way they made it sound, I’d be lucky to get enough for a pie!

With bad news, there is always something good though. When we reached the orchard this morning I asked if they still were picking rhubarb. Yes! No matter what then, I knew this wasn’t going to be a wasted trip.

We hit the rhubarb field first and picked about 20 pounds of what was left. It was not as easy picking as it had been just a few weeks ago, but the stalks were red and firm, so I can’t complain. Now I can make all those other recipes with rhubarb that I never got to because I hadn’t bought enough. This will be frozen however, so I can concentrate on the cherries.

Arriving at the cherry trees, I was surprised to find the trees as full as they were. The cherries were bigger than they had been last year, but not as clustered. It took the three of us nearly three hours to pick 26 pounds. A bit shy of my goal, but beggars can’t be choosy.

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As for sweet cherries? A local super market had these on sale this week for $1.98 a pound. We stopped off on our way home from the orchard and bought 11 pounds. I don’t need to make sweet cherry jam or jelly this year, but there are some new recipes using sweet cherries that I’d like to try.

With so much fresh fruit to deal with, I got started the minute I got home stemming and pitting cherries. With seven pounds of tart cherries I canned cherry pie filling. I plan on making at least another batch, perhaps two, depending on how far the 26 pounds we picked goes.

Cherry Pie Filling

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7 Pounds Fresh Sour Cherries
3 Cups Sugar
3/4 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4+ Water
4 Cups Cherry Water (see note)
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

Rinse and pit cherries.

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Blanch cherries in boiling water for one minute.

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Drain, reserving juice, and keep heated in covered stock pot.

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Combine Clear Jel slurry, lemon juice and sugar in stock with 4 cups of the reserved juice from the blanching. Bring to boil over medium-high heat until it thickens and bubbles. Fold in drained cherries.

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Fill jars with filling, leaving a one-inch head space. Adjust lids and process in water bath for 25 minutes.

For this recipe the yield was 7 pints and one quart.

Although the information I received about Michigan cherries a few weeks ago was wrong, at least I didn’t miss cherry picking entirely like I would have had I not received that email. Fresh tart cherries for pies, tarts, turnovers, pastries, and Belgium waffles, for this I am — Simply Grateful.