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How to Can Sour Cherry Preserves (Pie Filling)

Sour Cherries

Quick! Run to the market immediately and buy sour cherries before they’re gone!! Tell your boss it’s a family emergency. These cherries aren’t the kind of fruit that tempt you to nibble them straight out of the basket, but if you add a little sugar and some time, magic happens. They turn into the most beautiful ruby marbles that are perfect wrapped in a pie crust or piled next to a slice of pound cake.

If you don’t want to can them, at least make pie. Eat the whole thing right now by yourself. If you’re feeling generous, you could make mini cherry pies for your coworkers (mine loved them). Use a 3.75 or 4 inch biscuit cutter for the bottoms and 2.5 inch cutter for the tops if you make them in regular muffin tins.

If you can them, you’ll have some leftover syrup. Don’t throw it away! I ended up with about a pint, so I froze half of it and used the other half in a really tasty cocktail this weekend when it was too hot to move. Fill a small glass with ice and add 1.5 ounces vodka, 0.5 ounces cognac, 2 ounces of the leftover syrup, and top off with seltzer.

One more note: Remember that canning is scientifically safe as long as you are safe and scientific. Read through our posts on canning before starting, if you’re new to this.

This recipe is from a great book – Canning for a New Generation: Bold, Fresh Flavors for the Modern Pantry by Liana Krissoff. I highly suggest picking it up, if you, like me, don’t have a whole root cellar to store your jars and can’t spend a whole weekend canning. Most of the recipes make a single canner’s worth (7 jars), which is both easy to store and not terribly time-consuming.

Sour Cherry Preserves
Yields about 6 half pint jars plus extra syrup and applesauce
Note: This takes a little planning ahead, because you need to pit the cherries and mix them with sugar on day one, then can on day two.

Amount Ingredient Preparation Where we bought it
(* Union Sq. Greenmarket)
5 pounds Cherries Pitted I forget where *
2.5 cups Sugar
1 pound Green apples Breezy Hill Orchard *
Peel from 1 lemon Try to avoid the white pith, if possible. I scraped it off with the side of a spoon.
3.75 TBsp Fresh lemon juice Strain it to remove bits of fruit and seeds (Yes, this is an annoying amount. I’m sorry.)


Day 1:

  1. Put the cherries and sugar into a large pot. We use a Dutch oven, because the heavy bottom prevents burning. Heat to a simmer.

  2. Keep the cherries and sugar at a simmer until the sugar is dissolved and enough juices accumulate to cover the cherries. It took about 10 minutes for me.

  3. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Cover and let the cherries soak overnight. This step isn’t 100% necessary, but it results in plumper cherries and I like how it breaks up the canning process. Especially since pitting the cherries can be quite a chore.

Day 2:

  1. Prepare the tools and half-pint jars/lids/rings you’ll need for canning and start heating the water in your canner. Because the jars will be processed for less than 10 minutes, you will need to sterilize the jars and rings. (Steps 3 and 4)
  2. Place a strainer over a bowl and dump the cherries and juice into the strainer. This will allow you to cook the syrup separately to thicken it without overcooking the cherries themselves.

  3. Quarter and core the apples. Put the cores and lemon peel in a jelly bag or tie them up in a few layers of cheesecloth. The pectin in the apples will help the syrup to jell a little.
  4. Pour the drained juice back into your pot and add the apples and cores. Heat to a boil over a high flame until the syrup reduces and thickens a little. This took me about 30 minutes. Remember to stir every now and then so that it doesn’t burn.

  5. Toward the end of this time, start heating the jar lids. (Step 6)
  6. Remove the apples and cores/peel. Don’t throw the apples away! You can smoosh them up to make really tasty cherry applesauce. I got almost a pint.
  7. Add the cherries, any extra juice, and the lemon juice to the pot and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes. It’s important that you heat up the cherries so that the jars don’t siphon, i.e. leak into the pot when they’re processed.

  8. Use a slotted spoon to fill the sterilized jars with cherries, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. You can push on the cherries a little to pack the jars, but try to be gentle.

  9. Pour the syrup over the cherries, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Bubble the jars. (Steps 7 through 9)
  10. Wipe the rims, screw on the lids, and place your canner. Process for 5 minutes. Cool, check the seals, label, and store.(Steps 10 through 19)

I ended up with 6 half pints of cherries (one didn’t seal, so it’s in the freezer), a pint of syrup (half in the refrigerator, half in the freezer), and almost a pint of applesauce (in the refrigerator). Not bad!

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