Cherry ripe

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This year has been the biggest cherry harvest I can ever remember, which means every evening is taken up with processing them.

I have been fearfully neglectful of this blog lately.

Partly it’s the heat, but partly it’s the biggest cherry harvest since 2003 (and possibly even bigger than that), which means, for me, a ton of stoning, juicing and general processing. I’m taking 3-6kg a day off the trees.

The wonderful thing about processing is that it warms you twice, or at least warms your heart. In the depths of a freezing winter, it’s a great feeling to pop open a jar of cherries that you picked yourself and remember the sunny morning before breakfast, up a ladder, collecting the warm red fruit that stained your fingers purple with the juice. It is a psychological satisfaction that you simply can’t get if you just buy them. 

Here in Normandy we’ve had just one day of rain since March. The countryside is brown, crisp, sweltering under blue skies, and the rain that has been repeatedly forecast has still not been forthcoming. With daytime temperatures of 34 degrees, our days are spent in deep shade or indoors to keep cool.

But this has all been fab for the cherries. The godly combination of circumstances has meant that even the birds are sick of them this year, and the cherries that I normally pinch as soon as they turn red have been left to blacken on the trees, with over 50 cherries per bunch, hanging like grapes from the branch. 

These days, I no longer make jam very much, as it never gets eaten, so I cook cherries in one of four ways:

1 Heat-processed

Fill a sterilised Kilner jar (that’s the tough glass type with a rubber ring seal) to the fill level with cherries, then pour in as much sugar as the jar will hold (keep shaking it, and it will make its way down through the gaps in the fruit). Seal the jar, wrap it in a cloth and place it in a boiler (I use a 10-litre stockpot) that you’ve lined with a teatowel.When the boiler is full (mine only takes 3 x 1-litre jars), fill it with water until the jars are submerged, bring to the boil and boil for 20 minutes. You’ll see the air in the jars being forced out, creating a vacuum seal. Leave to cool before lifting out. This method is useful to process whole cherries that can then be served in winter, heated, with custard or ice-cream.

Advantages: no stoning, little discolouration, you can do it without sugar if you prefer, leaving the stones in results in more flavour. 

Disadvantages: uses a lot of water, has to be watched, fills the kitchen with steam, you can only do a small amount at one time, the fruit can’t be used in crumbles etc. 


2 Slow-cooked

Place the cherries in a slow cooker, with or without sugar, and leave to cook for about six hours, or overnight. Take them out while still hot, place in hot, sterlised Kilner jars and seal. This method is useful to process whole cherries that can then be served in winter, heated, with custard or ice-cream.

Advantages: piss-easy, no loss of flavour.

Disadvantages: fruit discolour to brown, fruit can’t be used for crumbles etc.

Obviously, you can also do either of the above methods with stoned cherries, if you’re willing to sit there all evening with a cherry stoner. 


3 Compote

This method creates a semi-set compote that can be used in crumbles, pies etc. 

Stone the cherries and place in a large pan or preserving pan with enough sugar to taste (50-50 preserving sugar and ordinary sugar), and perhaps ginger or cinnamon if you like it. Bring to the boil, reduce to a simmer and cook for 10-20 minutes until semi-set. Ladle into hot, sterilised jars and seal. You can also heat-process the jars if you wish, which gives them a longer shelf life.

Advantages: can be used for anything, as no stones.

Disadvantages: stoning is a messy business, fruit has to be watched carefully or it will catch.  


4 Juicing

Wash the cherries and place in a steam juicer, bring to the boil and cook for 20 minutes. Drain off the juice and place it back through the fruit, and cook for another 20 minutes. Press the fruit to get out the last of the juice if you wish.  Drain off the juice into hot, sterlised bottles, and seal (I used old Grolsch-type beer bottles with a rubber ring). This produces a clear, pasturised juice that keeps very well or can then be processed into jelly.

Advantages: very easy, don’t have to stone cherries, can use slightly bruised or small fruit that aren’t worth processing any other way. 

Disadvantages: you need to invest in a steam juicer. Mine was 48 euros from, but they are more expensive in the UK and are only available from specialist websites. However, if you enjoy making juices and jellies, it is a worthwhile investment, especially useful for processing berries.

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