It is cherry season! I have been eagerly awaiting the arrival of the first cherries at the farmers markets, and finally their happy red faces have appeared. They are juicy, sweet, and voluptuous, with smooth shiny skin and soft flesh inside. They are just absolutely perfect. Some of them are even so red and ripe that they are almost a deep crimson violet color.
Here in San Diego we get the common Bing variety of cherry, but we also get neon-colored and super sweet Rainier cherries, and as well as Lapin Cherries. I buy them all. I love them all. I am an equal opportunity cherry eater.
Now last year when cherry season rolled around, I didn't quite get my act together. I bought lots and lots of cherries, and snacked on them. Often. Cherries are just the ideal size for popping in your mouth one at a time, and then of course, you can't eat just one. They are sweet enough to feel like an indulgence, but they are also really healthy - a win-win in the snack world.
But yet, there were those pesky pits... and that was when I realized something was missing from my life. Specifically, I didn't have a cherry pitter, and clearly everyone should own a cherry pitter. (Am I right friends?) Now I should have used this as a good excuse to go shopping (as though I need an excuse), but because of aforementioned lack of getting-act-together, I lagged behind and the cherry season passed me by.
But not this year. This season, I decided it was time. I planned ahead so I could jump into cherry season with both feet and devour these beautiful fruits with gusto. I took the plunge and bought myself a cherry pitter.
I got the Oxo Cherry Pitter from Williams-Sonoma, because it came highly recommended by several readers and friends on Twitter. And honestly, I am kicking myself that I did not get it sooner. I love it. It makes pitting cherries a breeze - I can easily pit 2 pounds of cherries in less than 15 minutes - and the mess is minimal. And a bonus? It can also pit olives! This dual function obviously takes the cherry pitter out of the single-use kitchen gadget category and places it squarely in the Very-Useful, Must-Buy category. (See how I capitalized those categories? That means they are important.) So in case you aren't catching my drift, I think you should buy a cherry pitter. Now.
Because if you buy it now, then you are only a few short days away from making these luscious cherry preserves, as well as a whole host of other great cherry dishes. But I would argue that you should definitely start with these preserves.
This recipe is for sweet cherry preserves - as opposed to the sour/tart variety - and it takes everything that makes a cherry wonderful and transforms it into spreadable form that is intensely sweet. I like my preserves with large chunks of fruit, so some of the cherries are chopped before cooking, while others are left whole. The whole cherries and big pieces of fruit are my favorite part - I want to make sure I have enough of them so I don't have to go hunting around to find them.
So these cherry preserves are stellar on their own, on a slice of white bread, wheat bread, french bread, or even a cute little plain scone. It's heaven. But naturally, I had to take it just a tiny step further and try it out with goat cheese - and not just any goat cheese, but Purple Haze from Cypress Grove Chevre, which has both lavender and fennel pollen to delicate flavor it. And WHOA. Especially the taste of the lavender is just an absolutely perfect complement to the sweet cherries - I think I couldn't have made a better match if I had tried. (Cypress Grove also makes the incredible humboldt fog goat cheese that I love.)
So hurry, before the cherry season passes you by, get yourself a cherry pitter and make these preserves. You will be SO glad that you captured the sweet taste of summer and you can indulge yourself a little bit by trying this with goat cheese too. It is also a perfect thing to share with friends or to bring for a summer picnic or party - how simple would it be to bring a jar of preserves, a disc of goat cheese, and french baguette? Your hostess would love you even more if you had an extra jar of sweet cherry preserves stashed away for her. Just sayin.
Oh, and one more thing. Make sure you have enough butter knives on hand for spreading the preserves. Normally my knives sit in the drawer, unused, but you would be amazed at how quickly the drawer becomes empty when there is are fresh fruit preserves in the house. Of course, then I can always resort to using a small spoon...
Sweet Cherry Preserves
This recipe doesn't have any extra added pectin - it only uses natural pectin from the fruits. If you want your jam to be thicker, think about adding some extra pectin to the recipe, but it wasn't necessary for my tastes. Also, in one of the batches of preserves I made, I added a bit of amaretto and I loved the way it heightened the cherry flavor.
4 cups washed, pitted cherries; I have the Oxo Cherry Pitter and I love it
Juice of 1 large lemon or 2 small lemons
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1-2 tsp amaretto (optional)
Prepare cherries, then chop about 1/2 or 1/3 of them into rough pieces, and leave the others whole. Add all the cherries to a medium pot along with the lemon juice. Cook over medium heat, until they start bubbling, then continue to cook while stirring occasionally for about 20-25 minutes. Make sure you stir especially towards the end of that time so the juice on the bottom does not burn. As they are cooking, use a spoon to smash the whole cherries to release the juice and flatten them. (If you don't flatten them, they will stay really round and the preserves will not be very 'spreadable.')
After the cherries are fully cooked, add the sugar, stir to mix it in and dissolve it, then continue to cook over medium-high heat for another 5-7 minutes. (Again, be sure to stir, so the sugar and cherries don't burn.) After cooking, the juice should have started to 'gel' a bit and thicken so that it starts to coat the back of your spoon or ladle. Remove the preserves from heat, and test if they are done. If the preserves are not done, return them to the heat and cook them for a few more minutes, then test them again. When done, let the preserves cool slightly*, then transfer it to jars. Once they are cooled, they will keep refrigerated for several months.
*If you like, stir in some amaretto to enhance the flavor of the cherries.