The secret to learning any skill, whether it is knitting, sewing, making furniture, or canning, is to start small. I was canning plain fruit and making simple freezer jam long before I felt brave enough to attempt jam in canning jars. This is only my second year canning jam, but I’ve found it isn’t nearly as complicated as I had feared.
After I canned a large batch of cherry pie filling, I found that I still had a large quantity of cherries left. Not enough for another batch of pie filling, but more than enough for a couple batches of jam. I made some cherry freezer jam last year and I have to admit I wasn’t a huge fan – nothing wrong with it, just not my favorite flavor. So I thought I would branch out and try something new – cherry preserves and cherry-peach jam.
Disclaimer: Even though this article is about canning cherries, I am not even going to pretend to be an expert! I’m telling you all about my canning adventures because it wasn’t that long ago that I had never canned anything in my entire life. If I am able to make jam and put it in a genuine sealed jar, so can anyone.
Preserves, Jams, Jellies, and Conserves
First, a quick definition. Preserves, jams and jellies are all found in the same aisle in the grocery store and look virtually indistinguishable from one another, being stuff in a jar suitable for use with peanut butter on bread. While these things all belong to the same class of foods, they are not exactly the same.
Preserves refers to jammy substance made from the whole fruit – no mincing or chopping. Jam is made from chopped up fruit, and jelly is congealed fruit juice. I have a spiffy cookbook from the 1970s that has recipes for conserves, which include nuts. I think I will need a little more canning experience under my belt before I attempt one of those.
If you have basic canning equipment (jars, lids, hot water canner, etc.) you already have almost everything you need to make jam as well. A Dutch oven is best for jam-making because of its superior heat-conducting properties, but any large pot will do. You may be tempted, but it is important to refrain from doubling batches of jam and preserves. This just increases your odds of burnt or rubbery jam.
I found some recipes online for cherry-glazed ham that called for cherry preserves. I can’t speak for anyone else, but the possibility of ham caused me to feel that this was an excellent reason to try my hand at making cherry preserves. Ham plus cherries? Yes, please.
When I came to actually make the recipe, I was skeptical – how could whole fruit dissolve that much sugar? I should not have doubted. It turned out fine. Note that this recipe calls for TWO boxes of pectin. Most recipes will only ask for one, but you really do need two boxes for this recipe to set up.
The following recipe was adapted from Food.com.
- Six cups whole pitted cherries (about two lbs)
- Two boxes pectin – most boxes have 1.75 oz each, so 3.5 oz total
- 3 1/4 cups sugar, divided
- 1⁄2 teaspoon butter
Place cherries in your pot, along with the pectin, 1/4 c of sugar, and butter. Bring to a boil, stirring constantly. The cherries will release liquid as they cook. Add remaining sugar and bring to a full boil for one minute. Remove from heat, and skim off any foam that forms. (Note: some people prefer the texture of the foam and keep it in their jam as an added feature.)
Spoon your preserves into jars, either three one pint or six 1/2 pint jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Wipe the rims of your jars before placing lids. Process in a boiling water bath for at least ten minutes. Optional: I read an interesting suggestion to add a splash of balsamic vinegar and a bit of black pepper for a more savory concoction.
Mixed fruit jams are a good way to make jam when you haven’t got enough of one kind. The recipes for these are easily found in every flavor you can possibly think of. I once made mango-strawberry-ginger jam, though I thought it tasted kind of strange. For my peach-cherry jam, I combined fresh cherries that had been pitted and pulsed a couple times in my food processor with some frozen peaches saved from last year.
Recipe adapted from The Better Homes and Gardens Home Canning Cook Book, copyright 1973.
- 1 1/2 c coarsely chopped, pitted cherries, about 1 lb
- 2 c peeled, pitted chopped peaches, about 1 3/4 lb
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 4 c sugar
- 1 box pectin (1.75 oz)
In your Dutch oven or pot, combine cherries, peaches, lemon juice, and pectin. Stir to combine. Bring to a full boil, stirring constantly. Stir in sugar and bring back up to a boil. Let it boil uncovered for one minute. Remove from heat, skim off foam, and fill your jars. Process about 10 minutes in your boiling-water canner. Makes five 1/2 pints.
Above is a picture of my finished products. If you look closely, you can see the whole cherries near the top of the jar on the left – those are the preserves. Note the lovely garnet color. Making jam in little jars is enjoyable because they make such lovely gifts for friends and neighbors. The best part about jam, of course, is eating it!
More resources for beginners and advanced canners:
- All-American Pressure Canner (Ultra heavy duty, more expensive)
- DVD: At Home Canning for Beginners and Beyond
- Ball Blue Book Guide to Preserving
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving
- Ball Canning Utensil Set
- Presto Pressure Canner (budget-friendly)
- Simply Canning by Sharon Peterson
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