another keeper

Finally. Something has diverted my attention away from the mighty garlic scape. The tart cherries are lining up for their moment of fame. And they are so excited about it that they are nearly bouncing off their branches. Our cherry trees are conveniently planted along the path we take to get to our cars and shed. Which means I almost always pop a few in my mouth en route. They are so tricky, those cherries. Sun warmed and fruity, but with a tang that makes your mouth stand up and say “Howdy!” Such a tease.

My new favorite smoothie is a simple affair involving kefir, a big handful of tart cherries, a spoonful of finely shredded coconut and a bit of honey to sweeten things up. Now that is a way to start the day.

But wait. Before I get all wrapped up with the cherries, I promised the sugar snap peas that I would put in a word for them. They were a little late to the party this year, but they are now coming on hot and heavy – as if to make up for lost time. We had our first official pea feast on Saturday night. I heated a couple of tablespoons of butter in the wok, added about a pound of stringed peas and seared them for a minute or so before tossing in a small handful of chopped thyme, sea salt and fresh pepper. I gave them one more minute on the heat to let everything meld and turned them out onto a platter. Then I blew the whistle and it was an all out, no holds barred situation at the dinner table. Yum.
Okay, where were we? Cherries, right. My friend Gina makes the most lovely tart cherry jelly. Ruby red and clear as glass. I knew I would love Gina forever after the first time I attended an annual Winter Solstice party that she and her husband Olaf throw each year on December 21. On the darkest and deepest night of winter, their house overflows with warmth, coziness and light. Heartfelt toasts with Aquavit – the Scandinavian “water of life” spirit – flow freely. It is truly a joyous night. But here’s how I really know Gina is a keeper. As each guest gets ready to depart into the cold winter night, she discreetly slips a small jar of tart cherry jelly into their hands. A little gem. A little ray of sweet light.
It’s been a good 8 or 9 years since my first taste of Gina’s cherry jelly, but I still remember it like it was yesterday. It was January. It was cold. Her cherries transformed my english muffin and my day. I was so inspired by it that I went up to my desk and composed a cherry haiku for her. And I have never missed a Winter Solstice party since. Which is a good thing for many reasons, one being that I don’t have the patience for making jelly. It just seems so fussy, with the straining and all. So I typically stick to the more unrefined, rustic jams and preserves.
Cherry season began as usual for me this year, with a batch of Cherry Honey Jam. But then I got a little crazy and made a zingy Cherry and White Pepper Preserve. And I think it is going to be a rising star in the kitchen. Just like Gina, this one’s a keeper. It’s such a simple recipe, but there is so much going on. The heat of the pepper and the intense cherry flavor mixed with just enough sweet to take the edge off. Zowie. I can already taste it on a pork tenderloin, smeared into barbecued ribs, or dotted on goat cheese crostini. Or how about a spoonful of it mixed in with a batch of stir-fried sturdy greens and garlic? And just think what it might do to a savory stuffed squash. I can almost not wait for the first brisk fall night when it seems right to try it. Almost.
I use Pomona’s Pectin for the jam and pretty much follow the recipe that comes with it. The preserve recipe is adapted from Sherri Brooks Vinton’s Put ’em Up! I used raw sugar instead of refined and also added a bit of honey. And I opted for white pepper instead of black. I thought its richer and spicier flavor might be a nice touch – and it was.
Tart Cherry Jam
From Pomona’s Universal Pectin
4 pounds of tart cherries (for 4 cups mashed fruit)
1 cup honey (more or less to taste)
2 teaspoons pectin Pomona’s pectin powder
2 teaspoons calcium water
Makes approximately 4 – 5 cups
Wash and sterilize your jars. Clean the cherries if necessary and stem and pit them. There is no denying that this is a bit of a messy job – the deck is a perfect place for it. Lightly crush the cherries with your fingers or a fork. You want to end up with 4 cups of mashed cherries and juice. Place cherries in a non-reactive pot over low heat, and add the calcium water to the fruit. Measure room temperature honey into a separate bowl and stir in the pectin powder.  Bring the cherries to a boil. Add the pectin-honey mixture and stir vigorously for 1 – 2 minutes to dissolve the pectin and honey. Return mixture to a boil and remove from heat. Ladle into prepared jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace. Attach sterile 2 piece lids and process in a boiling hot water bath process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from canner, label, and store in a cool dark place without rings.
Cherry and White Pepper Preserves
Adapted from Put ’em Up!
3 pounds of tart cherries
1 cup raw sugar
1/4 cup honey
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 teaspoons fresh ground white pepper
Makes approximately 3-4 cups
Wash and sterilize your jars. Put 2 or 3 small saucers in the freezer. Clean the cherries if necessary and stem and pit them. Again, I recommend somewhere outside for this job. Place cherries in a non-reactive pot over low heat, stirring and lightly crushing the fruit a bit. Add in the sugar, honey, and lemon juice and stir until the sugar dissolves. Raise the heat to medium-hot and bring to a boil. Once boiling, adjust the heat to keep the mixture at a nice boil and cook for about 25 minutes. Give it a stir every now and again to make sure nothing is sticking. After 25 minutes  you can start testing for gel set. To test for set remove pan from heat and put a spoonful of fruit on one of your frozen saucers. Return the plate to freezer for about a minute, then take it out and run your finger through the fruit. If it wrinkles or shows the slightest bit of resistance, the preserves are good to go. If the fruit is still runny and loose when you slide your finger through it, return the pan to heat and boil for another couple of minutes. Test again and repeat if necessary. Timing will vary depending on the amount of natural pectin in the fruit. Once gel set is reached, remove from heat, ladle into prepared jars, leaving about 1/4 inch of headspace. Attach sterile 2 piece lids and process in a boiling hot water bath process for 10 minutes. Remove jars from canner, label, and store in a cool dark place without rings.

4 Responses to “another keeper”


  1. 1 Julie Buckles July 18, 2011 at 8:32 pm

    That smoothie looks incredible. Love those tart cherries — and yes, the peas are fabulous as well.

  2. 3 Anne Fischer July 19, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Dear Jill,
    I am reminded that this is a special birthday! Have a happy one and for me it was the beginning of a whole different perspective on life. It was a biggie. Katie is in that same place and we both with you a wonderful celebration and many wonderful years. I read your blog and thing that you are WONDER-FULL.
    ANNE


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