Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Making Cherry Jelly

This is what Rogue does to cherries.
I know I promised it was Jalapeno Week, and we'll get back to that, but I figured that I'd take tonight in a wholly different direction, just in case Five Boys' Mom started her diet again while we weren't looking.  So tonight's concoction is cherry jelly, using a scalable recipe from Food.com that looked promising.

The first thing I noticed was the madness of its measurement system.  It's rather odd, because most people will say, "I have x lbs of cherries. How much jelly can I make?" This recipe begins at the end, by asking how much jelly you wish to make.  That would not be so bad, except that the amount you will make is proportional to the amount of juice you have, which is dependent upon the amount of water you add to it, which is inversely proportional to the unknown amount of juice your unmeasured cherries will make, and you can't discover how much water you need until you cook your cherries, which demands the water up front.  I just threw in half a cup to start and figured I'd add more if I needed to round up.  That seemed to work well.

These are the cherries she didn't get.
Jelly is different from jam. Whereas jam is essentially the whole fruit, seeds and all, mashed up with a medium like sugar or honey, jelly will have none of that. Jelly is more like a science experiment: fruit juice, pectin, and sugar heated to such a state that the ingredients will form a gel at room temperature.  That makes it more complicated than jam and a little more fussy, but it's not all that hard to make if you follow the steps. It's just science. So let's make some.

The first thing we need is juice, so I took about a half gallon of cherries - all the ones that Rogue had not already cooked into my fat ass delicious pie, and plopped them whole into a pot, along with the aforementioned half a cup of water. Basically, I wanted enough water that I was not sauteing the cherries, but not enough to make cherry-flavored gruel.  Cook them all for 10 minutes or so and then mash them with a plastic potato masher.  The idea here is to separate the meat from the skins and pits, so be careful using a metal masher, which might cut open a few pits if you hit them right.  Once everything is separated into a good mash, then it's time to introduce it to the jelly strainer.

Fracking operation, commence
The jelly strainer is just a hanging bag with holes in it. Juice goes through the holes, pits and skin don't.  Except it's never that easy, so once the juice stops flowing I generally take a plastic spatula and perform a little fracking operation on the leftovers.  Slowly push the spatula down through different spots to the bag and you'll release more juice, probably increasing your take by 20%.  The amount of juice is going to determine how much jelly you make, so you'll want as much as possible.  Besides, everything left in the bag goes to the chickens, and mine already eat plenty good without depriving myself of jelly.

That operation is essentially the same with any jelly you want to make. In fact, if you really want to make jelly, you can skip the entire preceding paragraphs and just open a big bottle of Welch's grape juice.  What follows will work with that or just about any juice.  So anyway, we have juice; let's make jelly.

I fracked about 3 1/4 cups of cherry juice, so we're going to add 1/4 cup of water and pretend that we had 3 1/2. That will let us follow this recipe without scaling.

1. Put the juice in the big pan, along with a cup of water and a whole box (1.75 oz) of pectin.  I actually have a 10# jar of pectin I bought on ebay for the cost of 10 1.75 oz boxes, so bust out the scale and let's pretend I overpaid for a box of pectin.  Bring that sucker to a boil. A real boil, not one of those sad sack bubblers that disappear when you stir them.

2.  While you're bringing it to a boil, get your canner boiling as well.  You can use the small 8qt one if you'd like, because you'll be using half-pints and smaller jars.  I used the big one just because it was not put away from last time. I'm lazy like that. Sue me.

3.  Once you have a good rolling boil going in the juice, add 4 1/2 cups of sugar. That's a lot of sugar, I know, but most jellies are about equal parts sugar and juice, so if that bothers you, stick to jam where you can reduce the sugar or substitute honey or something else.  I actually prefer jam, but this recipe is what it is so let's get on with it.

4.  Bring it to a boil again.  Now this will be a different kind of boil.  The last boil was a tame if playful boil.  This one will use the second you're not looking to jump out of the pot and gel your entire stovetop for you.  So keep an eye on it. As soon as it bubbles up to the top of the pot, stir it like mad and set your timer.  One minute is all you need. Stir, baby, stir.  Then cut the heat.

I hope one of the lids doesn't seal
5.  Ladle it into hot jars leaving 1/4" of headspace. That's not much, but on small jars it's all you'll need.  Wipe the rims, screw the lids down, and drop them into a rolling boil for 5 minutes.  Pull them out, and you're done.  

It's a pretty fast operation, all told.  I made the juice last night and left it in the fridge overnight, so from juice to jelly tonight took less than an hour.  I ended up with about 40 oz of jelly, as you can see, plus a little bit extra that I shared with Molly because she was #3 in "three's a crowd" tonight. Sometimes a kid needs warm jelly on french bread with Dad.

It was possibly the best jelly I've ever made.  I was a little worried about the high sugar, as I'm not a fan of overly-sweet concoctions, but because my cherries tend to the sour side the balance was magnificent.  I'll need to hide these jars in the pantry to ensure that last year's apply jelly gets eaten first.  And there is no danger, none, that they will suffer the same fate as 2008's pear butter.


  1. I like jam better than jelly. The cherry bushes i planted may lend themselves better to jelly than to pie. If they turn out like my dad's cherry bushes, the cherries are very small. I was wondering what to do with them other than just eat them fresh. Of course, they'd have to actually bloom and produce fruit. After several years, I haven't seen a blossom. I'm wondering if they are lilac bushes or something.

  2. Yeah, with jelly I might even be able to use my "American plums." They are not really much for eating off the tree, but if I juiced up enough I could make a decent batch of jelly. Of course, with apples coming in abundance this fall by the looks of things, I'm probably going to have enough jelly to last for years already.

    Maybe the apples will go to pie filling and applesauce instead...

  3. I think the only hope for my diet is to turn 70 and have the pounds fall off from age.

    Not crazy about cherries as anything other than pie. This is National Ice Cream Month by the way. Oh, wait--there are those cherry chocolates at Christmas and that Cherry Chocolate Truffle ice cream I have in my freezer.

    Later, Dude!