The Ladies Preservation Society met last week to make cherry jam. We had a lot of fun and definitely made something… but I’m not sure I can call it jam. The recipe had a few problems. Perhaps you can tell that I don’t take these things lightly – I had to figure out how to fix it. To my recollection, my mom never had issues making jam (except once, when we ate plum syrup on our French toast for years after the plum jam didn’t set. But that was the most wonderful syrup!).
This cherry jam set up way too firm, like nearly solid (particularly after being refrigerated). I had to microwave it to make it spreadable. It tastes good, but it’s really sweet (despite using a low-sugar recipe) and the cherry flavor is lost. I’m not going to bother posting the recipe, but I will post pictures!
So what went wrong? Well, I was talking to the guy who sells jam at the farmer’s market (dang, wish I’d thought of that!) and he said the key is to use almond extract to give the flavor punch. Almonds and cherries are closely related, both members of the genus Prunus (along with plums, peaches, and apricots, i.e., what we generally refer to as the “stone fruits”). Adding the almond extract is almost like adding cherry extract, you end up tasting a lot of cherry (but not in a fakey way).
To resolve the pectin imbalance, I basically just chopped the fruit more thoroughly. For the first recipe, we chopped the cherries into 6ths because I wanted really chunky jam. But 4 cups didn’t contain as much fruit as if the fruit were chopped smaller. For the second batch, I used the food processor (which had the added benefit of taking far less time). I ended up getting more actual fruit in the 4 cups, and the jam is a more normal texture.
Here’s the recipe I used for the improved version (adapted for low sugar from the Sure-Jell recipe for tart cherry jam):
4 cups prepared sweet cherries (stemmed, pitted, and chopped fine) – about 3 lbs
¼ cup lemon juice
1 box (1.75 oz) sure-jell no sugar pectin
2 cups sugar
¼ tsp almond extract
Prepare jars and lids (keep lids in not-quite boiling water, make sure jars are clean and kept warm). Now, I often ignore “prepare the items ahead of time” instructions, but jam really is a time-sensitive project. You’ll be happy you have everything ready before you start, particularly if you’re working alone.
Stem and pit cherries. (I’ve already written of my love for my new cherry pitter, and I’ll do it again. Seriously, if you’re thinking of doing much with cherries, get one of these (link). Plus, I made cherry crisp last weekend and my friend’s 5 and 7 year olds loved helping pit the cherries.) Place fruit in a food processor and process on pulse until the cherries are in tiny pieces, but not pureed. Measure out 4 cups.
Stir cherries, lemon juice, pectin, and ¼ cup sugar in a large pot. Bring mixture to a full rolling boil on high or medium-high heat. Add sugar, and return to a rolling boil, stirring constantly. Once the mixture is at a rolling boil, continue cooking for 1 minute, still stirring constantly. Remove from heat and stir in the almond extract. At this point I usually let the jam sit 3-5 minutes. This is to let the jam set a tiny bit, so any fruit chunks stay evenly distributed and don’t float to the top once in the jars. It also gives you time to skim the foam.
It’s also a good time to test whether the jam has set. Using a spoon that has been kept cold in ice-water, scoop a little out and wait for it to cool to room temperature. In my first batch of cherry jam, I should have recognized that it was too firm. Although to be honest, I’m not sure what I could have done to fix it. If the jam isn’t firm enough, you can return the jam to the stove and add more pectin. It can be a little trial and error, I feel like every time I make jam, even with the same recipe, it’s slightly different. I’m sure in a couple years I’ll have stronger instincts. Do any of you have tricks for what to do if the jam sets too firm?
This batch was quite delicious. D said, “tell them about how much I like it.” So there you have it. Good luck!