I wish I’d got onto cherry jam earlier in the summer. So does Oliver. He’s a cherry fiend- gobbles them, pips and all. Which surprises me a little – not that he eats the pips (that’s my fault), but because cherries seem very adult to me.
Really, cherry jam is filthy. Maybe that’s why you’ll be pushed to see real cherry jam in the stores. Sure, you’ll see cherry jam pimped up with grape juice concentrate, or a 50% fruit cherry jam. But the real thing? That many cherries in one jar? That’s R-rated.
Cherries send you mad. Last week, I made 1 litre of jam for my cooking class that cost me 50 bucks in cherries. That’s 2kg of fruit. Those were very expensive cherries, I know. But get this: I bought more of the same cherries so we could make the exact same jam in class. Tasmanian cherries as fat as two cherries in one. The pip to flesh ratio is very good… but still. 50 bucks.
I was driven by an urge bigger than my wallet. To do a class on stone fruit jams and not make cherry jam? To have eaten the most divine cherries in existence and not find a way of making them last until the end of summer if not into the first breathes of autumn?
I didn’t even get good pics of this jam, I was so taken with the making (the cherries featured here are from an earlier jam session). It was probably too naughty to photograph anyway. Whole cherries aloft in a syrupy that’s almost black in the jar. Tastes like a midnight skinny dip. Perfect on steel cut oats in the morning. A spoonful of cream, and a little drop of cherry midnight.
I’ll take the photographs next year, I promise.
Dark Cherry Jam
- 1.15kg (2.5lbs) pitted red cherries (making sure to reserve the pits)
- 600g (1lb5oz) white cane sugar plus 140g (5oz) white cane sugar
- 450g (1lb) unpitted red cherries
- about 115g (4oz) lemon juice, freshly squeezed and strained
- 1 x 2cm piece of vanilla bean, split open lengthwise
- splash of brandy
First you’ll need to extract a good tablespoon of kernels from the cherry pits. Find a strong surface and place a teatowel on it, folded into 3 layers. Scatter the cherry pits over the teatowel, and, focusing on one pit at a time, bang it with the pestle until it cracks enough to extract the kernel. Needless to say, this is very satisfying work. Continue until you’ve cracked all the pits. Coarsely chop them (if they aren’t already smashed up a bit). You should have just enough to fill a tablespoon.
If you have too many, discard some. If you don’t have enough… don’t worry, it’ll do. Place the chopped kernels in a tightly closing tea strainer and set aside.
Place the pitted cherries in a large bowl with the 600g of sugar, stir to coat all the cherries in sugar and set aside.
Place the unpitted cherries, 140g of sugar and 225g of water in the large preserving pot on high heat. Stir with the heatproof spatula to dissolve and then boil rapidly until the cherries start to soften. Smash the cherries with a potato masher, to encourage them to cook and give up their juices. Continue to cook, mashing every now and then, for 20 minutes or so, until the syrup has thickened slightly. If necessary, add a little bit more water, or turn down the heat slightly, so that the mixture doesn’t burn.
Once you have a syrup, pour the mixture through a sieve, catching the syrup in a bowl and pressing the cherries against the sieve until they given up everything they’ve got. Scrape the bottom of the sieve with the spatula, so as not to leave any precious flavour behind.
Once you’re ready to make the jam, pour the cherry syrup, sugared pitted cherries, their kernels in the tea strainer, lemon juice, and vanilla bean into a large preserving pot, and put on a low heat. Stir the mixture with a heatproof spatula to encourage all the sugar to dissolve. Once this has happened, add a splash or two of brandy, until you can just taste it in the syrup. It shouldn’t be strongly present.
Before you start properly heating your jam, put 5 teaspoons on a small plate in the freezer (for testing the setting point later) and start sterilizing your equipment. The easiest way to do this is in the oven. Preheat your oven to 120C and make sure your jars and lids are super clean. Make sure you’ve got enough jars to deal with 1 litre of jam. Place the jars and lids, open side up, on a tray in the middle of your oven and leave them there to sterilize while the jam cooks. Place the seals (if you’re using Fowlers Vacola Jars) and a funnel and ladle in a large bowl and fill your kettle with water to boil. No need to pour the water yet- you can do that closer to filling time.
Turn the heat to high and bring the mixture to the boil, scraping the bottom and stirring as it heats to a boil. When boiling, set your timer for 5 minutes and if there’s a lot of froth rising to the surface, start skimming it off with a large metal spoon. Rinse the spoon every now and then so that you don’t transfer any sticking froth back to the mixture between skims. After 5 minutes, take the pot from the heat and finish skimming any remaining froth.
Return the pot to a high heat and once boiling again, set your timer for 25 minutes. Through these 25 minutes, continue to stir the jam as often as you need to, to make sure it’s not catching on the bottom of the pan. Watch out for spitting- as the jam thickens, stirring can become a little dangerous!
You shouldn’t really have to test the setting point of the jam sooner than 30 minutes, but to be sure, do a few tests as you’re stirring the jam: pull the spatula out of the pot and hold it sideways, letting it drip back into the pot. The closer you get to the setting point, to less ‘drip-like’ the syrup dropping back into the pot becomes. It will start to look more viscous, sticky almost, and the drips will try to amalgamate on the spatula before falling into the pot. As well as this change, you will notice the jam becomes thicker, more consistent, and the bubbles clearer, plentiful and more ‘crisp’ in form.
If more foam rises as you’re stirring the jam, leave it for a while, if you can. Removing it does make it less likely the jam with overflow the pot, but some of the foam does dissipate on its own, so it’s a shame to skim off cherry jam unnecessarily.
Once 30 minutes has passed, and if it seems like the drops off the spatula are starting to become less drop-like, it’s time to start testing for the set. Take the pot off the heat and take 1 frozen teaspoon and the saucer out of the freezer. Stir the jam to make it consistent than scoop out a small amount of representative jam from the pot and drop it on the frozen teaspoon. Quickly place the teaspoon on the saucer and take it back to the freezer to cool. Don’t leave it there too long. You want the back of the teaspoon to feel the same temperature as the back of your hand. Test it after a minute or two. If it’s still warm, put it back in the freezer. If it’s too cold, start again.
Once the teaspoon of jams come down to room temperature, you can test the setting point. Tip the teaspoon so the jam spills onto your fingertip. It should run quite slowly off the spoon. You won’t get the same sort of ‘gloppy’ consistency that you get with other jams, but the liquid will be thickened and not at all watery. If so, you’ve reached setting point and there’s no more jam cooking to be done. If the jam runs more quickly onto your finger, you have some more cooking to do.
Quickly put the jam back on the stove on high heat and cook for another couple of minutes, before testing again. Take the jam off the heat every time you test, and repeat the teaspoon test until you get a slow run. When this happens, don’t stir the jam, but take a few moments to complete remove any foam from the surface with a metal spoon.
Now prepare to fill your jars. Pour boiling water over the seals (if using), funnel and ladle. Take the jam jars and lids out of the oven (but leave the oven on) and set up your work space with the pot of jam and bottles close by each other. Use the funnel and ladle to fill the jars leaving only ½ cm space at the top. Make sure the jars aren’t so hot that they scorch the jam, by trying out a little jam in one jar first. If it sizzles and spits when it hits the glass, let the jars sit for a minute or two before filling. Use a tea towel to hold the jar as you place the seal on top, or screw the lid on tightly.
Place all the closed jars back on the tray and put back in the oven for 15 minutes, to seal.