Ontario cherries

01-cherry-picking

Last weekend hubby and I went cherry picking at Cherry Avenue Farms. I love fresh Ontario fruit, but the season is so short for picking. The weather wasn’t particularly cooperative, as we had light rain, but the cherry trees provided some cover. After walking up and down the rows of trees and finding a few really great provider trees, we ended up with around 14.5 pounds of sweet Ontario cherries.

08-cherry-picking

02-ontario-sweet-cherries

Although many people opt to pick the darkest fruit because it is the sweetest, we zoned in on the medium dark cherries because we needed them to keep. The best way to store cherries is to keep them cold. I’ve read that cherries lose more quality in an hour at room temperature than a day in the fridge.

Over the past week, I have spent my evenings canning and preserving these delightfully sweet berries.

03-canned-whole-cherries

Above is a picture of canned whole cherries in a light syrup. I started with a recipe from SimpleBites, and modified it to meet the requirements of the National Center for Home Food Preservation. These are the steps I took, and I ended up with 3.5 pints:

  1. I started off sterilizing my jars and lids in boiling water. As this was happening, I started to wash and pit 2 pounds of cherries using my OXO cherry pitter. I laugh at the strawberry huller tool as I have no problems hulling and slicing with a pairing knife, but there is no way I can see myself easily pitting cherries without a designated tool.
  2. I dissolved 1 cup of organic cane sugar in 4.5 cups of near-boiling water. This amount of water will give you excess syrup.
  3. As my jars came to a boil, I washed my hands, removed the jars, and started stuffing cherries into them. I found that I could fit approximately 17 cherries into the 250 mL jars, and double that amount in the 500 mL/1 pint jars. Add the syrup, leaving 2 cm of head space. I added 2 drops of almond extract to two of the jars.
  4. Ensure the rims are clean and free of syrup and other debris, lift out the lids from the pot of boiling water, and screw them on finger tight.
  5. Process in water bath for 25 minutes.
  6. Remove and ensure that all lids get a proper seal (listen for the lids popping).
  7. I am being patient and giving them some time before tasting, but I’m tempted to open one up this weekend.

In addition to canning the cherries whole, I have also made Sweet Cherry Preserves with no added pectin. I followed the recipe and used 1 cup of cane sugar, but I found the outcome to be sweeter than I would like, but it’s still good. I followed the recipe amount because I know that sugar is what helps with shelf-life, but if I make this again, I will cut back on the sugar, perhaps to 3/4 cup. Following the recipe, I managed to get almost 1.5 pints. For those that prefer a thicker consistency, you can try the Low Sugar Sweet Cherry Jam using Pomona’s Universal Pectin. For this recipe, you can cut the amount of sugar in half, and it should still gel if you use Pomona’s Pectin.

I also tried my hand at Cherry Mostarda. My first batch was a fail because I misread the recipe and added in too much salt, so for my second attempt, I only gave it a pinch of salt. The recipe calls for a teaspoon, but even that might still be too much, at least for my taste. I suggest you mix all the ingredients without the salt, taste, and then decide. I could not fix my first batch because I tasted too late, after I threw the cherries into the mixture. Bad call – always remember to taste as you cook! I decided to process my two jars (250 mL jars) in a water bath, just to extend the shelf life. Perhaps we will open a jar with our duck confit tomorrow.

And finally, after a wonderful dinner with great friends last night, I finished my final batch of strawberry freezer jam. Sandy had opened a bottle of wine, the Bordeaux Blend, from LovanE Wine Estate located in South Africa and it was absolutely divine! I was so touched that she wanted to share it with us. She had been saving it for a special occasion. It had a wonderful fruity flavour, but it was dry. The colour was this gorgeous deep red. It went down so easy.

05-dinner-with-friends

The chicken was nicely seasoned and was grilled on a charcoal grill. I can’t remember the last time I’ve had anything from a charcoal BBQ, but it adds a great smoky flavour. I loved that they garnished the plate with different types of home-grown basil.

06-grilled-chicken

I brought a plate of Shishito peppers, since I was among friends that love spicy food. We also brought a block of Guernsey Girl from Upper Canada Cheese. This is a wonderful grilling cheese as it holds its shape when heated. The outside caramelizes, giving it a nice crispy (and squeaky) layer while the interior softens but not to a gooey consistency. The flavour is mild, so it would pair nicely with something sweet or savoury.

07-shishito-plate

Of course I had to end my evening with finishing what I started before dinner – making strawberry freezer jam. I added some lemon thyme and english thyme to this batch. I may have had more strawberries than the recipe called for as I ended up with 7 half pints.

04-strawberry-freezer-jam

What is in store for this upcoming weekend? I picked up 2 pounds of beautiful green and yellow beans from Wiecha Farms at the farmer’s market. I’m looking forward to making some dilly beans for ceasars! Dilly beans are typically green beans, stored in a vinegar-based pickling liquid and usually seasoned with garlic, chili pepper flakes, black peppercorns and either dill heads or seeds. I added some ripe shishito peppers for heat, though many people like to use fresh jalapenos. Use what you’ve got.

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