Do you find yourself shedding a small tear when you realize that cherry season will end just as abruptly as it started? Well, cry no more my friend. You can preserve cherries by soaking them in brandy and then canning them until winter. Just imagine for a moment that it’s December (hard to imagine in this heat, I know) and you’re serving this summer’s sweetest cherries in a rich liqueur syrup over vanilla ice cream at your holiday dinner table. It’ll blow pumpkin pie out of the water.
Knowing what we now know about botulism and other scary bacterial illnesses, canning can seem a little intimidating at first. It’s true that if you’re not careful, you can make yourself and your loved ones very sick. Washing the fruit carefully, heating it to the appropriate temperature, using sterile equipment, and following all directions very carefully are super-duper important steps.
I am by no means an expert on canning, but I’ve done it enough to feel pretty comfortable with the process. (And I even think it’s fun. Such a food nerd, right?) It all started about five years ago when a neighbor brought over three grocery bags full of navel oranges one cold winter morning, harvested from their small orchard. I stared at those oranges for about half a day before I realized there was only one thing to do with them: make marmalade. I did a little online research, bought some canning jars at the grocery store, and ended up with enough jars of marmalade to check about 30 people off my list of friends and family for whom I otherwise would have had to buy a holiday present. And they loved those little jars of homemade goodness… there’s nothing like a gift from the kitchen.
The National Center for Home Food Preservation at the University of Georgia is really the authority on the subject of canning, so definitely set aside some time to do a little browsing there before you dive in. If, after reading up on canning, you decide you don’t even want to mess with it, you can simply store the finished cherries in their syrup in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three weeks.
But I hope you’ll try canning. If you have a garden or are part of a farm share, you’ll quickly learn that canning is a great way to preserve all that leftover produce. And don’t put this project off because cherries will be all but gone from the farmers markets by the end of July. You’ll be sorry come Christmas Eve when you have nothing but boring ol’ pumpkin pie on the table.
3 1/2 pounds Bing cherries
2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups water
juice of one lemon
1 cinnamon stick
1 1/4 cups brandy
1 tablespoon vanilla
Rinse, stem and pit cherries. Combine the sugar, water, lemon juice and cinnamon stick in a saucepan. Heat to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Stir in the vanilla. Pour 1/4 cup syrup into each clean, hot jar. Fill jars with cherries. Add 1/4 cup brandy and more syrup as needed to fill each jar, leaving 1/2-inch headspace; seal. Process in a boiling water bath 20 minutes.
Yields 5 pints.