2015 Michigan Cherry Recipes #4 – Cran-Cherry Pie Filling

Back  about 10 years ago, before I started canning pie filling, I was shopping for cherry pie filling for a holiday pie. My brand of choice at the time was Comstock and that year they happened to come out with a Cranberry-Cherry Pie Filling. Intrigued, I had to try it. It was wonderful.

Unfortunately, by the time I went back to buy the cranberry-cherry pie filling again, which could have easily been months, they had discontinued it. Bummer!  To remedy not having a pie filling that included cranberries I opted to add a can of whole berry cranberry sauce to the cherry pie filling and the results were good, but not exactly the same.

This year after making my regular batch of Tart Cherry Pie Filling I decided to try my own version of Cranberry-Cherry Pie Filling. The results were awesome.

Cranberry-Cherry Pie Filling

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8 Pounds Pitted/Stemmed Tart Cherries

3 – 12 oz. Bags Fresh or Frozen Cranberries

5 Cups Sugar

1 1/4 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water

7 Cups Cherry Water/Juice

1/4 Cup Lemon Juice

  • Rinse and pit cherries. Blanch cherries and cranberries 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 7 cups of reserved cherry/cranberry water. Bring to boil over medium-high heat until it thickens and bubbles. Remove from heat. Fold in fruit.
  • Fill jars with filling, leaving a one-inch head space. Adjust lids and process in water bath for 25 minutes.

I cannot believe how much this tastes like how I remember the Comstock version did. What a thrill. I cannot wait to make a pie or perhaps some strudel with my version.

I absolutely love canning, but when canning brings back something I loved but could no longer find, I love it even more, 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.

Cherry-Berry Canning

This morning Zeb and I spent several hours in the kitchen whipping up a few new recipes using some of the tart cherries we picked this past weekend. It amazes me how much faster everything goes when you have a helper.

The first recipe I wanted to work on was one using cherries and blueberries. I have several packages of frozen blueberries from last years season left and with blueberry season approaching, I figured it was a good time to clear out the old to make room for the new.

Several times a year I make Belguim waffles for breakfast, serving them with a mixed berry topping. The preserves I made today is similar and I think I could even use it in a pinch if Zeb or Grace want a special treat on a frozen waffle. (Yes, I am guilty of occasionally buying them a package of those large-corporation, heavily processed frozen waffles. When I do though Grace is sure to tease me and say, “Mom, make me a waffle like only you can make.” No one can toast a frozen waffle like dear old Ma!)

Cherry-Berry Preserves

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3 Cups Pitted Tart Cherries
3 Cups Packed Blueberries
1 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Cups Sugar
4 Tbsp. Clear Jel dissolved in 1/4 C. Water

  • Combine cherries, blueberries, lemon juice, and sugar in large stock pot.

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  • Cook on medium-high until mixture begins to boil and blueberries begin to soften and burst.

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  • Using a potato masher, crush berries and cherries.
  • Add Clear Jel slurry and boil for 1 minute.

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  • Remove from heat, cool 5 minutes and ladle into hot jars leaving a 1“ head space.
  • Process 15 minutes in water bath canner.

This preserve was very thick. When I make it again I will decrease the Clear Jel to 3 Tbsp.

The second recipe Zeb and I worked on was one using some of the strawberry juice I froze from our strawberry picking a few weeks ago. The recipe that inspired this jam called for crushed berries, but I thought the strawberries would be too dominant a flavor if left whole. Also, I decreased the sugar by more than half, leaving this jam more on the tart side , but still more than sweet enough.

Red-On-Red Jam (Grace named this one)

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1 Pound Tart Cherries, pitted
1 Cup Strawberry Juice, strained
3 Tbsp. Lemon Juice
2 Cups Sugar
3 Tbsp. Clear Jel mixed with 1/4 Cup Water

  • Place pitted cherries in large stock pot.

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  • Cook over medium heat, crushing with spoon as they heat.

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  • Add strawberry juice, lemon juice, sugar, and Clear Jel slurry.

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  • Bring to boil. Boil 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat, let stand 5 minutes, ladle into hot jars.
  • Process in water bath 10 minutes.

This jam was very tasty but next time I might try using 2 pounds of cherries, as the strawberry flavor was still dominant.

Zeb and I also worked on two other jams that need to sit overnight. When he tired of helping out in the kitchen, I set to work on cutting some rhubarb and made another batch of rhubarb pie filling. This will be wonderful to add to cherry, blueberry, or apple pies this winter.

Rhubarb Pie Filling

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10 Cups Chopped Rhubarb
3 Cups Sugar
2 Cups Water
1/4 Cup Lemon Juice
3/4 Cup Clear Jel dissolved in 1 Cup Water

  • Blanch chopped rhubarb in boiling water 1 minute.
  • Drain, reserving 3 cups liquid to use in filling. Keep rhubarb warm in a covered bowl.
  • Combine sugar, 2 cups of reserved liquid, lemon juice, and Clear Jel slurry (using the remaining 1 cup of reserved liquid) in large stock pot.
  • Slowly bring to boil over medium heat. Boil 1 minute.
  • Remove from heat and stir in rhubarb.
  • Ladle into hot jars, leaving a 1“ head space.
  • Process 30 minutes in water bath canner at full boil.

It gives me such a sense of completion and security knowing that the pantry is filling up with lots of different home-canned goods. I cannot wait to start harvesting vegetables and the pantry to overflow (not that it isn’t already). Tomorrow it’s back to tart and sweet cherries, more rhubarb, and new recipes, and for this I am — Simply Grateful.