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Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cherry Redux

This was the spring of cherries. In fact, I missed some other fruits because I kept trying to get the cherries right. I guess I shouldn't say I missed them, I just ate them instead of experimenting with jam. (Next spring - APRICOTS!) 

I learned a lot. I didn't publish the recipes because most of them just didn't come out the way I had hoped. For me, texture is the issue now. Cherries taste good. It really takes some doing to ruin the flavor of cherries, but the texture thing is my challenge. 

 One of the things I hoped to accomplish was to create homemade maraschino cherries to substitute for store bought. I don't know why I like maraschino cherries, but I do. Even as a child, my brother and I had a treaty involving cherry equity whenever a can of fruit cocktail was opened. I was also motivated because many of my great grandmother's recipes include maraschino cherries. I just thought that I should be able to do something that would taste great and not be quite so neon and chemical laden.

My cherry on the left, the commercial cherry on the right.

For my first attempt, I used this recipe. I used the version for 3 pounds of cherries. It tastes pretty good, but does not really come close to a commercial maraschino cherry. They have a sweet and salty flavor that is unusual. They are kind of like the salted caramel of the cherry preserve world. The flavor is so unusual, that my testers either loved them or hated them. They taste good on ice cream (as seen above) and I've been using the extra syrup to flavor my yogurt. I think part of the issue might be that we do not usually have sour red cherries in Nor Cal. For next year, I have purchased a bottle of maraschino liqueur and will try just soaking raw cherries. I understand that the weird, neon, red cherries arose out of the prohibition, when the maraschino liqueur could no longer be used.

Another experiment was with cherries and wine. I had picked up a couple of bottles of tasty Beaujolais from a sale bin. The flavor of the wine was reminiscent of cherries and spice, and it inspired me to substitute a portion of the cherries in a batch of jam with Beaujolais that had been reduced with black pepper corns. The flavor was really good, particularly with cheese. But, it ended up being rather syrupy because of the additional liquid. I may try this again, but I will bump up the pepper corns and try using some apples or apple pectin to enhance the set.

The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook inspired me to enhance cherry jam by using the cherry pit kernels. It was fun cracking them open. I placed the cherry pits between some tea towels and pounded them with a hammer on my cement laundry porch floor. It sounded like I was setting off fire crackers! The fragrance of these little kernels is sublime. I will never let these little jewels go to waste again.

Cherries are considered low pectin, and, as I mentioned before, getting the right set has been a challenge. Without using any additional pectin, sometimes the cooking time becomes too long and the cherries get an overly cooked taste. I tried using one of my packets of homemade green apple pectin. (These were made using these instructions from Tigress.) I think that 2/3 cup of this apple pectin turned out to be too much. The batch I made with it came out a little stiff and gummy. I certainly prefer a syrupy set to a gummy set. I think, in the future, I will try using 1/3 cup, or perhaps just throwing in a cut up apple. I've also learned that sometimes the set comes a couple of days after the cooking. I've come to the conclusion that there is a certain mouth feel when the jam is done. Frozen spoons and lots of tasting seem to be more reliable than my thermometer.

So, here is a short list of what I've learned, put more succinctly:
1. Cherries and almonds are in love. Do not try to keep them apart.
2. Cherries like a nice glass of Beaujolais and are not opposed to spicing things up.
3. Apples are the friendly social glue that helps low pectin fruits come together.
4. Cherry pits are not the pits, but the bomb.
5. Maraschino cherries may be a bit of a long-term quest.

Until next cherry season...

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