I absolutely love the concept of preserving and canning your own foods. I know this is an age old process, but despite growing up in a southern family, it's not something that was passed down to me. And with the advent of refrigeration and grocery stores filled with every kind of preserve or pickle you could want, who has the energy to can their own goods these days! The answer is me.
I've always been intrigued by shelf-stable foods. The concept that a fruit can sit in a pantry for months or a year and still not kill you when you eat it is pretty amazing. I also love the idea of being able to take seasonal fruits and freeze them in time so you can enjoy them later in the year. I've been eagerly awaiting cherry season, as it is one of the few fruits I actually love, so I've been on a major cherry binge lately.
I'm not an expert on canning so I won't go into those details, so if you intend to make this jam and properly preserve it, you should read up on proper canning techniques - you don't want to give botulism to yourself or anyone else you love! You don't have to know how to can to make this, but if you don't, you'll have to refrigerate and eat within 2 weeks, which probably isn't much of a challenge if you love cherries! I like to properly can my jams so I can give them as gifts to my food-loving friends and not make them put a timeline on when they have to consume it by.
My favorite book on canning and preserving is Canning for a New Generation. The information is incredibly easy to consume and the recipes are wildly inventive for the niche of canning! She also includes great recipes for dishes to make with your preserves. I actually used her cherry jam recipe as a base for this recipe, but added bourbon and vanilla for my own taste.
Be sure to thoroughly wash your fruits. They've been through a lot of steps to get to your home and a thorough washing is always necessary.
The first step is the biggest pain. Pitting the cherries. I've pitted about 8 pounds of cherries this week alone. My fingernails are stained (and about 5 dish towels! So don't use any that you are particularly fond of). There are many google-able ways to learn how to pit cherries, but I found the chopstick to be the best bet for me. After a splinter or two, I switched to plastic ones that ended up working much better.
Combine your cherries with 1 1/2-2 cups of sugar. I prefer raw cane sugar for the light caramel/molasses flavor that gets removed in the further refinement of white sugar, although white sugar is perfectly fine if that's what you have on hand. Cook over high heat to combine the sugar and break down the cherry juices. After about 10-15 minutes, you should have enough cherry juice to nearly cover the cherries.
Next, you strain your cherries over a bowl to separate the sugary juice. How beautiful is that juice color! All from nature.
Pectin is a necessary requirement in preserving for low acid fruits. It also thickens your jam and reduces cook time (by hours!) You can buy powdered pectin at the grocery store, but why pour grainy powder into your jam when you can get all the natural pectin you need from a few apples. Core and quarter 1 pound (2 large or 4 small) granny smith apples. Put the seeds and cores in a mesh cooking bag or a few pieces of cheesecloth tied up (like a spice sachet) to get the full pectin of the entire apple.
Next, combine the cherry juice and apples over high heat to reduce down to a syrup, about 10-15 minutes. After your juice has become a syrup, combine the cherry fruit, syrup, 3 tbsp. lemon juice and the zest of 1 lemon (for acid and to balance the sugar), 1 vanilla bean scraped with shell (or 3-4 tsp. of vanilla extract), and 4 tbsp. of bourbon. You can omit the bourbon if you want, or if you don't consume alcohol, although, the alcohol cooks out and leaves the bourbon flavor.
Simmer for 10 more minutes to combine ingredients and to allow your jam to further thicken. Remove the apples and your apple bag, and the vanilla bean shell. Spoon your jam into your jars, let cool to room temperature and refrigerate, or continue with a proper canning process.
Last but not least, I love to create cute personalized tags for giving these out to friends! I often include serving suggestions or a treat to go with it. Try buying blank tags from your local art and craft store and decorate them. I've used a stamp I created for my personal creative brand to give them a touch of personality.
Cherry Vanilla Bourbon Jam
Makes 6 half pints
4 lbs. sweet cherries
1 1/2-2 cups raw cane sugar (to taste)
1 lb. Granny Smith apples
1 vanilla bean
3 tbsp. freshly squeezed lemon juice
Zest of 1 lemon
4 tbsp. good quality bourbon (I used Maker's Mark)