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Sunday, June 24, 2012

We Be Jammin': Cherry and Chocolate Cherry Jam

by Panda

I have always been fascinated by fruit.  I'm one of those people who will get excited when he sees a fruit tree with fruit on it (and will likely steal some when no one's looking).  I just think it's amazing that you can pluck food off of a tree... Some people think that's a little weird, but in this day and age, where everything comes from the grocery store, it's a bit of a revelation when you can actually see where something comes from.  I feel this way about meat, too, but that's an entirely different discussion.
To add to my fruity fascination, I had always thought that jam was a pretty mysterious, magical thing.  I just assumed that it was a difficult thing to do.  Then I tried it.  I think it's one of those things that people put in the same category as bread making; once you actually do it, you stand there for a second scratching your head, because you could swear it's got to be more complicated than it actually is.

Mango and I found ourselves with two bags of cherries from the farmer's market, and cherry jam is one of my favorite things.  Additionally, I now had an opportunity to make something that I had wanted to try making for a long time.

I keep a couple of boxes of pectin on hand for making jam.  I really like the no sugar pectin... I still put sugar in my jam, but the no sugar pectin is much more forgiving than regular old pectin.  Normal pectin requires a certain amount of sugar to set up properly, but no sugar pectin is treated so that it doesn't need the sugar for this to happen.  If you like your jam less sweet, just add less sugar, and the stuff will still work.  Additionally, most boxes of pectin come with recipes inside, which is handy, because different fruits require different amounts of ingredients.  I usually tweak the recipe to suit my tastes (e.g. less sugar, or replacing some of the sugar with honey).

The first thing I had to do was pit our cherries.  We don't have a cherry pitter - I just use a chop stick.  Use the small tip of the chopstick to poke a hole in the end opposite of where the stem would be.  Then place the large end of the chopstick against the stem-end, and push - the pit should pop right out.  Once I got all of them pitted, I threw them into a pot along with some lemon juice, and brought them up to heat over medium heat.

I like my jam chunky, so I leave the cherries whole and mash them up a bit later on.  If you  like a different texture, just cut your cherries up prior to adding them to the pot.

Meanwhile, I mixed some pectin up with about 1/4c of the sugar the recipe called for.  This is to help the pectin mix evenly throughout.

Pectin mixed with 1/4c sugar
I will often replace about half of the sugar a recipe calls for with honey, just because I like the taste.

Honey plus the rest of the sugar.  Lube your bowl and measuring cup with a bit of oil prior to adding the honey - it makes getting the honey out much easier.

Just add the pectin mixture to the fruit, bring to a boil, add your honey + sugar, and bring to a boil again.  I also like to add a pinch of salt... just as desserts benefit from a little salt, I think jam does as well.

Now since I added honey, and also liquid in the form of lemon juice (I feel that lemon juice helps brighten the flavor of fruit), I added the additional step of bringing the heat down and allowing the mixture to simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes, stirring often.  Honey is about 20% water, so I wanted to cook a bit of the water out so the jam would be the right consistency.  I may also buzz it up a bit with my stick blender, for a few seconds, to distribute some of the fruit a little more evenly (totally optional and up to personal preference).


This is a pretty important step, so I decided to put this in its own section.  If you'd rather keep your jam in the refrigerator or the freezer then you don't really need to bother with this.  So why bother?  It lets you store your jam on the shelf, at room temperature, which frees up room in your fridge/freezer.  You can keep jam around for a year or more without having to dig around in the deep freeze for it, and you can give your jam away as gifts (which we do quite often).  It's also a pretty easy process, as long as you remember to follow the necessary steps.

The most important thing to remember is that everything has to be clean.  You should wash everything, obviously, and also run your jars and lids through the dish washer (no detergent, by themselves) to sanitize them.  Just leave them there until you're read to use them.

Utensil soup?  Lids and utensils in a pot of boiling water.

When I'm ready to make jam, I put the lids of the jars and any utensils I'm going to use (my funnel and ladel) into a pot of water.  I bring the pot up to a boil, then let it simmer until I get the jam ready.  This keeps everything nice and sterile.

Jars like this are available at most grocery stores, along with other canning supplies.  Be sure to get the jars specifically for canning (the lids with the ring that screws on over them).  Picking up an extra box of rings + lids is a good idea, too, in case the seal on one of them goes bad.

I picked up this collapsible silicone funnel from the store for about $2.  The opening was a bit smaller, but since it was made of silicone I was able to cut it so that the opening fit just inside of my mason jars. When your jam is hot and ready, remove a jar from the dishwasher, fit your funnel onto the mason jar, ladle the jam in, then remove the funnel and seal the jar up with one of the lids.  Be sure to do all of this while the jam is still nice and hot.

And now for the thing I had wanted to try for a long time... chocolate cherry jam.  As I ladled the jam into the jar, I simply alternated layers of hot jam and chocolate chips (the top layer being jam).  I couldn't wait to break into this.  And the best part?  Mango doesn't like fruit mixed with chocolate, so I'd have it all to myself :D

Once all of your jars of jam are sealed up (make sure the lids are tight, but don't crank them so hard that you won't ever get them open again), get your water bath ready.  There are canning rigs (pots + racks) available for this, but, if you don't have this equipment, just do the following.  You'll need a pot wide enough to accommodate your jars, and tall enough so that they will sit in the pot a few inches below the lip.  Place two clean dish towels inside the pot so that they evenly cover the bottom of the pot and come up on the sides a bit.  Then place your jars inside the pot, and fill the pot with water so that the water comes at least an inch above your jars.

The dish towels act as your rack, keeping the bottom of the jars from touching the pot; if they were to touch it they might end up shattering.

Once this is done, bring your water up to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook for 20 minutes.  Most recipes will call for 10 minutes, but I feel that 20 minutes really ensures that everything will be thoroughly sanitized.

Louis Pasteur would be proud.

Once it's done, shut off the heat, and just leave your jars in there until they're cool enough to remove.  Then store them in a nice dark spot for 24 hours without moving them around (so that the pectin can set).

Waiting sucks.  But, as Alton Brown is fond of saying, your patience will be rewarded.

Oh, look.  There's jam stuck to my ladle.  Guess I'll have to lick it off - don't want to waste any.
Cherry jam on the left, chocolate cherry on the right.
When the jam begins to cool you'll hear a pleasant "thunk" - that's the vacuum being created by the air cooling inside the jar, pulling the top of the lid in so that it becomes concave.  In this particular instance I only heard one thunk... my chocolate cherry jam didn't form a proper seal.  You can test this by tapping the top of the jar; a proper seal will ring with a higher pitch, and an improper seal will have a lower pitched, dull sound to it.  Additionally, the lid won't be concave like it should be.  I'm pretty sure this happened because I put too much jam in the jar.  No need to panic, just follow these steps (be sure to do this within at least a day of when you filled the jar):
  • Remove your jam from the jar, put it in a small pot and slowly bring it up to a boil.
  • Repeat the canning process you used above using a new jar and lid.
We finally broke into the jam this weekend.  Home made cherry jam is extraordinary.  Chocolate cherry jam... wow.  Crazy good.  Definitely making it again.

Here is an additional resource that answers lots of canning questions.  Hopefully I've covered everything above, but it never hurts to have more info :)

Cherry Jam

3lb pitted cherries
1 box no sugar pectin
1.5c sugar (set aside 1/4c for mixing with pectin)
1.5c honey (use a lighter honey so it doesn't overwhelm the taste)
Juice of 1 lemon
Pinch of salt
Dark chocolate chips (for chocolate cherry jam)

Sterilize clean jars, lids and utensils in your dishwasher; hold jars until ready to fill.  Bring a pot of water up to a boil, then add the lids and utensils to the pot to keep them sterile (tongs can be used to remove lids and utensils when you need them).

Add fruit to a large pot along with the lemon juice; stir to combine.  Bring the fruit up to heat over medium heat.  Meanwhile, mix 1/4c of the sugar with the no sugar pectin.  Oil up a bowl with a bit of oil, then add the honey and remaining sugar to the bowl.  When the fruit is hot, add the pectin + sugar mixture, stir to combine, and allow the mixture to come up to a boil.  Add the honey + sugar mixture, and bring the mixture up to a boil again.  Lower the heat so that the mixture simmers and simmer for 5 minutes.

Fit funnel onto jar, then ladle hot jam mixture into the jar; be sure to leave about 1/2" of headspace at the top of the jar.  Fit on the lid + ring and tighten.  For chocolate cherry jam, alternate ladles of hot jam with a sprinkling of the chocolate chips, ending with a layer of jam on top.

Place clean dish towels in the bottom of a large pot.  Add jam filled jars.  Fill pot with water until the water is at least an inch above the jars.  Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.  Shut off the heat, and leave the jars in the pot until they're cool enough to handle.  Remove jars and put them in a dark cool spot to allow the jam to set.

Mango: Wow... this is really good.
Panda: I know, I'm glad we picked up these cherries.
Mango: Too bad there's not enough to share with anyone... om nom nom nom nom nom.

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