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Sticky red victory

Trust me, this is relevant:

Magic mighty pitting machines

I don’t like hot weather. But there’s a lot about summer I love: the longer evenings, going barefoot, bushwalking, swimming, picnics. Cherries. Cherries get dirt cheap around Christmas, occasionally dropping to astonishing prices like $4 per kilo. That’s mondo cheap. That’s stupid cheap. This year, so everyone keeps telling me, has not been a good year for the cherry growers of Australia. Having reconciled myself to a year without cherries (well, without many…without the usual gluttonous orgy I have where I lay in a bathtub full of cherries and eat them without using my hands), I was over the moon when a friend discovered the erstwhile “ornamental” cherry tree in his back yard is a flourishing, for-realz, akshul cherry tree. And he likes me enough to give me carte blanche. After picking enough to slake my cherry lust (for those of you who reached this blog after googling “cherry lust”, you may have the wrong website), which was a couple of kilos, there were still many many many fruits left on the tree. (Have you worked out where the paperclip comes in yet?)

Sticky close up

But I know what to do with fruity excess. It’s a three-pronged approach: (A) continue to gorge self on fruit; (B) freeze as much as possible; (C) make jam.

I haven’t had a chance to use prong (B) yet, but I’m well underway with other two.

I’m really interested in the way people make the most of abundance: canning, pickling, preserving, drying and freezing are all awesome things. Unfortunately, they can involve a bit of infrastructure: I haven’t a canning/pickling/bottling set, so in the interest of not exposing everyone I love to botulism, there’s a limit to how much preserving I could do. If I knew someone with a dehydrator, I might be interested in borrowing it to make dried cherries (ooh, in muesli!), but in the absence of such a device, I will pursue freezing and jam-ifying. I don’t eat a lot of jam, but on the other hand, there was that week I made brioche and half a jar of blueberry jam mysteriously evaporated from the fridge. I guess if I want to encourage croissants or brioche to appear in the house, I need to make sure there’s a supply of jam. Maybe they feed on it or something. I don’t know, I’m not a chemist.

This makes my heart beat a little faster

Allow me to share with you my beginner’s guide to making cherry jam:

(1) Make friends with someone who has a cherry tree. Persuade them that it is in their interest that you pick as many cherries as possible, then proceed to do so. We ended up with a three-kilo bag (whole cherries, no stems) to start with. I would have picked more, but my arms were tired.

(2) Pit your cherries. If you’ve spent your preceding week trying to pit cherries by flattening them with the blade of the knife, you will have learned that cherries are very very juicy and also very very squirty. I strongly, strongly recommend using the following technique:
(a) push the loop of a clean paperclip into the cherry’s bellybutton (where the stem was);
(b) scoop the loop around and under the pit to loosen it from the flesh, and flick it out into a bowl.
By a huge margin, this is the neatest and swiftest way I have found of cherry pitting — I used to have an olive pitter, and that would probably work as well, but I have recently developed an allergy to confined-use utensils (noun-verbers: oliver-pitters, avocado-slicers, egg-poachers — you see what I mean). I vote the paperclip all the way. Plus I like paperclips. You’ll be pleased to hear this is the messiest part of the whole process. Wear black, red or dark purple clothing, and if you’re the kind of person who dislikes having stained fingertips, gloves. For those keeping track: M and I used paperclips to pit three kilos of cherries in forty minutes. This yielded about a kilo of flesh and juice.

(3) I sort of followed the recipe on the back of a packet of Jamsetta (which is powdered pectin in caster sugar: it’s a fruit-based thickening agent for jam making), but with a suspicious eye on the amount of sugar. Equal parts fruit and sugar? Do me a favour. That’s way too much. I ended up using 1kg of fruit to 750g of sugar, and that was too sweet, so I squirted half a cup of lemon juice in. I believe you can also use balsamic vinegar to counteract the sweetness, but lemon juice seemed like a safer flavour match. The Jamsetta packet recipe is basically: simmer fruit with a dribble of water and lemon juice until pulpy, then sling in the packet of Jamsetta and a buttload of sugar that you’ve warmed in the oven. Bring to the boil and keep stirring: keep boiling and stirring until it reaches the gel point.

(4) The gel point is when it is jam and no longer stewed fruit. Before you start, put some plates or bowls or saucers or whatever in the freezer. When you think your jam is, well, jam, put a teaspoonful on one of the chilled things and let it sit for half a minute or so — it’ll cool quickly and start to settle into a thick gel. The Jamsetta packet says that it will wrinkle when you run your finger through it, which is a surprisingly unhelpful thing to say. Look, you’ll know how thick you want your jam. If it is cold on the saucer and it is thick like jam, you’re done. If it’s still too runny, wash your saucer and pop it back in the freezer, and keep boiling and stirring another few minutes. Check again in about three minutes. Mine took a little while longer than the packet suggested — about half an hour after adding the sugar/Jamsetta, I think. But it is good and thick.

Lush blush crush.

(5) Take off the heat and stop stirring, let it sit for ten minutes or so while you get some glass jars (that you have previously cleaned and which don’t smell like pickles) hot. If you put just-finished-boiling jam in a cold glass jar, guess what happens? If you guessed “the jar splits”, you get five points. If you guessed “third-degree scalds”, you get ten points. When your jars are hot and dry, ladle the jam in and let it sit a little while. While the jam is still warm, seal the lids on the jars. As the jam cools, the air inside the jar will contract slightly and should seal the lids on, air-tight. In theory. (This doesn’t always happen if you’re not using one of those bottling sets, so don’t freak out.)

From three kilos of unpitted cherries, we got about a kilo of pitted fruit/juice; to this I added maybe 1/4 cup of water, 3/4 cup of lemon juice, 750g sugar and 38g (3/4 packet) of Jamsetta. (This is not an exact science.) All up, we got between four and six cups of jam, I think.

Sticky ruby glory

If I could stop photographing this, you know I would, but I feel like I have a responsibility to share as much of this awesomeness as I can.

But wait: here’s the money shot.  Totally worth it:

If you're not slightly jealous, you may be dead.

This is my breakfast: M’s banana-and-date bread, with homemade yoghurt and cherry jam. And it is as tasty as it is beauitful. Fan-bloody-tastic.

I have a little bit of Jamsetta left — not enough for another batch this big — and I’m meditating on the virtues of roast capsicum, chilli and tomato jam. Hmm.

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