When we restructured our house ten years ago we planted many fruit trees, among them a sweet cherry tree. It grew and grew but gave us no fruit. Then four years ago we had five cherries – great excitement! The next year we had fifteen. The year after that there were more than we could count, but we were able to eat them all in one sitting. And this year – ta dah!
Clearly it was cherry jam time.
Jam is much easier to make than jelly – none of that time-consuming drip, drip, drip to get a clear jelly. For anyone who likes instant gratification in their preserves, jam is the way to go.
Here are the ingredients: the cherries, sugar, and a pectin product made from apples, among other things. Apples, guavas, quince, plums, gooseberries, oranges and other citrus fruits, contain large amounts of pectin, while soft fruits like cherries, grapes and strawberries contain small amounts of pectin, according to Wikipedia. Pectin is what puts the ‘jel’ in jams and jellies, so if you’re working with a low-pectin fruit you want to add some to make a good jam. I once made cherry ‘jam’ without adding pectin, and ended up with a lovely cherry sauce. In the good old days people simply boiled their fruit and sugar mixture until it was reduced to a jelly or jam. I’ve tried this and have ended up with a sort of sticky goo. For me adding pectin produces a better result. Sure-Jell, Ball and Certo are some of the name-brands of Pectin in the U.S., and many grocery chains sell it under their own label. I’ve read complaints about liquid pectin; some people have trouble getting it to set.
The Fruttapec above is called 2:1 because the recipe calls for only 1/2 kilo of sugar to a kilo of fruit. Many jam recipes call for equal weights. I know! It’s a great way to take something healthy like a cherry and turn it into something a lot less healthy. So, even though 2:1 jam is still full of sugar, you can feel very virtuous because you’ve reduced your intake by half.
All you have to do is mix the pectin with the sugar, then add the room-temperature prepared fruit (cleaned, and in the case of cherries, pitted). On that subject, here is the best purchase of the year:
Made by a German company, it is marketed as an olive-pitter, but it works just fine for cherries. You put the cherry in, squeeze the handle and the pit (and only the pit!) pops out the bottom. It’s fun, and a great time saver. The first day I made jam it took me an hour and a half to pit the fruit with a manicure tool, a wee spatula-like thing. With the new tool the next day it took less than half an hour.
You put the mixture on high heat, and at the same time boil up a pot of jam jars, lids and any other tools you will use. In addition to the pitter I use a jar-lifter, barely visible on the bottom right of the photo, and a wide-bottomed funnel for getting hot jam into the jars.
You bring the jam mix to a full roiling boil stirring all the while:
Once you’ve achieved boil, set a timer for three minutes. Then remove the pan from the heat and stir for a minute; then get as much of the foamy scum off the top as you can – it’s easier for some fruits than others (for cherries it’s difficult). Add three TBL of lemon juice, put back on the high fire, and boil for one more minute. Then it’s jar time.
Remove a jar from the pot of boiling water, fill it with hot fruit mix, remove a lid from the boiling water and screw it on, not too tightly. Then set the jar on a folded tea towel to cool. You’ve made jam!
Here’s your reward:
Oddly enough, cherry jam does not seem to be prevalent in Italy. The jars I’ve given Italian friends have produced more curiosity than delighted recognition. One taste has been sufficient to turn them into believers, so maybe one day soon the grocery shelves will be groaning under jars of cherry jam. But I’m not going to hold my breath; instead I’m going to hope for another banner crop next year.