This post, started one year ago today, was supposed to be a victory lap.
The cherry-and-gooseberry jam I’d made after last year’s epic harvest had been my favorite jar in years, and I was looking forward to creating—and documenting—a second batch.
Alas, in 2018 Mother Nature had other ideas. An extended verycoldsnap in March had delayed our tree’s blossom-break until the last week of April, just about three weeks later than usual. Still, by June 1st, it was loaded with pale, golden-pink fruit. Looking back at my garden logs, I calc’d that peak ripeness ought to be June 14-21, and we started to put the word out for our annual picking party.
Then came the rains. And more rains. And worse: winds. The damage wasn’t apparent at first, but as the cherries started to redden, I could see extensive bruising. With each passing sunny day, more berries moldered and shriveled right in place. Picking party scrubbed; straight-up cookout planned in its place. And in the end, what Sheila had begun calling our “raisin tree” had lost nearly 100% of its fruit in just eight days. Many of the local orchards I follow on social media report similar issues, with both strawberries and cherries. Sigh.
Crop insurance? Well, we have one half-pint of Goosecherry left from last year (along with a giant jar of good old cherry-rhubarb). And Audra and Andrew, suppliers of homegrown gooseberries, last week generously swapped me another box for just about the only quart of intact (but shy of ripe) cherries to come off the tree. So if the CSA (or maybe a South Jersey farm market) steps up with a surprise box of sweet cherries in the next week or two, I’m back in business.
Unsure about the ratio of red to green, last year I bracketed three micro-batches. We ended up preferring the 70:30 mix, but of course YMMV depending on the sweetness of your cherries and your tolerance for tart. For both the cherries and the gooseberries, I used a blender to break down most of the fruit and held back a portion of whole berries for texture. If you prefer a completely smooth end product, go ahead and whizz everything.
yields 3-4 half-pint jars
- 3-1/2 cups pitted sweet cherries
- 1-1/2 cups gooseberries
- 1/4 cup water
- 2 cups granulated sugar
- juice of 1/2 small lemon
Prep your jar(s) and lid(s) by sterilizing them in boiling water for 5 minutes. For testing your preserves’ set, stick a small plate in the freezer.
To prep the gooseberries, use kitchen shears to “top and tail” each berry (snip off the stem and any remaining blossom pieces as close to the berry as you can get). Rinse thoroughly in cold water. Over medium-low heat, simmer the berries in the water, covered, for about 10 minutes, until they’re softened. Set aside 1/4 cup, and run the rest through a blender or food processor until they’re smooth.
Roughly chop one cup of the cherries, and set those aside with the whole gooseberries. Purée the rest.
In a large pan (I use a 12-inch non-stick skillet for its bigger surface area and ease of cleanup), combine the puréed fruit, lemon juice, and sugar. Gently stir in the reserved fruit. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until it thickens. Depending on how juicy the fruit is, this’ll likely take 15-20 minutes at a full-on, rolling bubble.
With some experience, you be able to judge when it’s done by how it looks and feels (and even sounds), but if you need corroboration, use the plate test. Take your little plate out of the freezer and drip a small spoonful of the hot fruit onto it. Wait 10 seconds, and tip the plate. If the fruit is sludgy and doesn’t run right off the plate when you tip it, your preserves are ready to jar.
Ladle the hot fruit into the hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Fasten the lids and either:
- Let cool completely, then refrigerate and use within a month or so, or
- Make them shelf-stable by processing in a boiling-water bath for 15 minutes. If you’re new to canning, check out the Ball Company’s online guides or Marisa McLellan’s wonderful blog (and book), Food in Jars.
I’ve got partials of Strawberry-Maple and Blackberry-Bourbon in the fridge door now, but as soon as they’re gone, I’ll pop open that last jar of 2017 Goosecherry. And we’ll cross our fingers that the next couple months’ weather is kinder to the blackberries, figs, and grapes still hanging in the balance.