Cherry season is incredibly short—lasting only a matter of days—so I'll often find myself with gallon bags full of sour pie cherries that need to be pitted, washed, and processed in a short amount of time. Some years it can be a daunting task to turn all of these beauties into something delicious, so I've worked hard to develop a lazy person's recipe for preserves that has a great consistency, yet doesn't need any special equipment or added pectin. Just a small handful of ingredients and a little bit of time is all you need to produce a tasty preserve that can be put up and enjoyed over winter or eaten immediately on a slice of crusty bread slathered in butter.
Cherry Almond Preserves
(makes 1 pint or 2 half pints)
3 cups sour cherries (or slightly less than 1 pound)
1 cup sugar + additional ¼ - ½ cup, as necessary
1 Tablespoon pure almond extract
- Remove the pits from the cherries, add them to a large saucepan, and combine with 1 cup sugar. Let sit for at least twenty minutes while the cherries macerate, or release their juices.
- Over medium-high heat bring the contents of the pot to a boil and allow to cook until the mixture has reduced roughly by ⅓. Take a quick taste and if the preserves still make you pucker add an additional ¼ cup of sugar, or more to taste.
You can leave a wooden spoon in your pot or pan while your preserves are cooking to prevent them from boiling over.
- Add almond extract, then continue to boil the preserves taking care to stir frequently, until the contents of the pot have begun to thicken.
Total cooking time varies greatly depending on the size of you pot (anywhere from 20 - 45 minutes) so you'll need to keep a close eye on your preserves while they're cooking.
- There are a number of methods you can use to tell when your preserves are done cooking. By far the easiest is to take a spoon, dip it in the preserves, and let the liquid run off the spoon. If it immediately drips back in to the pot, you need to keep cooking, but if it puddles at the tip and drips off in a heavy sheet, your safe to turn the heat off. If you're still not quite sure they're done, you can remove your preserves from the heat, place a small amount of syrup on a plate and put it in the fridge to chill. It should form a gel after a few minutes, if it doesn't turn the heat back up and continue boiling your preserves.
It is possible to burn your preserves, so if you're still uncertain after performing these two tests, go ahead and turn off the heat. If your preserves fail to gel after cooling you can always use them on top of a fat stack of pancakes.
- Allow the preserves to cool slightly before transferring them into a pint jar. Wipe the rim clean, seal, and once cool store in the refrigerator.
You can use a cherry pitter if you have one, but for small batches of cherries a paperclip, chopstick, or even your hands work just as well. Keep in mind that pitting cherries is a messy process, so wear something dark colored or a shirt you don't mind getting stained.
It's perfectly normal for the preserves to foam while boiling, once they're removed from the heat you'll find the foam dissipates relatively quickly, so there is no need to skim it off the top.
This recipe is safe to can using a water bath, but for such a small batch I don't normally bother. If you'd like to make more than a pint and put some up for later you can use the canning instructions I've included with our recipe for Sweet Cherry and Peach Preserves.