For the past few months my mother and I have been worried about our yearly cherry harvest. We had an unusually warm winter which caused our lone tree to bloom several weeks early. There was a real risk that the last frost would damage the buds, leaving us with next to nothing worth harvesting. The few years we've gone without cherries have been absolutely heartbreaking, especially once winter rolls around and the realization sets in that there will be no cherry pies, cobblers, or syrup to get us through the cold weather.
Those winters are indeed bleak.
The good news is that the weather continued to stay warm, but that meant I ended up with a series of frantic text messages, complete with photos, letting me know that if I wanted cherries this year I'd have to make the drive back home a few weeks early. With my little man still in school this posed a bit of a problem, but we made a late night trip down just in time to pick as much as we could before the birds ate the rest.
We walked away with nearly 10 gallons of sour cherries, or about half of the usual harvest, since it managed to rain all weekend, making the ground too soft for a ladder. Believe me, I tried and subsequently gave up once I started listing dangerously to one side. I have a habit of breaking things (arms, legs, ankles and what not) any time I'm left unsupervised, so I wisely gave up and cursed the fact that I'll always be vertically challenged.
I have high hopes that my little guy will one day be taller than I am or at least able to shimmy up the tree and pick some of the higher branches. I'm counting down the days....
But I shouldn't complain since the harvest left me busy the following week turning piles of cherries into nearly twelve pints of cherry almond preserves and pie filling. I even had enough leftover filling for a small batch of cherry crumble with almond cardamom topping. Life is good and so is this pie filling, so if you stumble across sour cherries at the farmers' market make sure to put some up for later, you won't regret the decision at all.
Cherry Almond Pie Filling
makes 2 pints or 1 quart
3⅓ cups cups fresh sour cherries, pits removed (see notes)
1 cup sugar
¼ cup ClearJel (regular, not instant)
1⅓ cup cold water
1½ teaspoons pure almond extract
4 teaspoons bottled lemon juice
- Set a large pot of water to boil. Once the cherries have been pitted and measured add them to the boiling water. Boil for 1 minute after the water returns to a boil, then drain and keep in a covered dish.
- In a large pot combine sugar, ClearJel, water, and almond extract. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until the mixture has thickened and begins to bubble. Add lemon juice, continue to boil for an additional minute, stirring frequently. Turn off the heat, gently fold in the cherries, then immediately transfer to sterilized pint or quart jars making sure to leave a full inch of headspace.
- Process in a water bath for 30 minutes (0 - 1,000 ft), 35 minutes (1,001 - 3,000 ft), 40 minutes (3,001 - 6,000 ft) or 45 minutes (if above 6,000 ft). The time is the same for both pints and quarts.
When measuring your cherries make sure you have 3⅓ cups after the pits have been removed otherwise you won't have enough cherries to fill the jars.
Not sure where to find ClearJel? I've never seen it sold at our local stores, so I buy a from Amazon and have it shipped to me. My preferred brand comes from SB Canning, which isn't available at the moment, so my second choice would be from Hoosier Hill Farm.
ClearJel expands quite a bit during processing, so make sure you leave a full inch of headspace when filling your jars. Anything less and you run the risk of your lid popping while it's in the water bath (if you're using Weck jars) or compromising your seal (if using Ball/Kerr jars.)
The original recipe I'm working from calls for ¼ cup + 1 Tablespoon of ClearJel. I usually split this into two pint jars and find that I always have extra Jel left over so I've slightly adapted the recipe above.
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