Made From Scratch: Tart Cherry Jam (Small Batch)

Picking blueberries in Bayfield wasn't our only fruit-picking experience this summer. D and I also packed up the car (along with the dogs) and day-tripped to Door County back in July, with the main goal of picking tart cherries. 

The tart cherry season is relatively short; it lasts from late July just into early August. So if you miss the window, you're out of luck. And since tart cherries are rather delicate, they don't get shipped very far, making fresh tart cherries a fairly rare treat to find outside the areas where they are produced.

After doing a little research online, I decided our cherry-picking destination would be Cherry Lane Orchards in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Once there, D and I each grabbed a pail and headed into the orchard. Since the season had already been open for more than a week, we had to grab ladders to pick the cherries from the upper branches. It was hard work I tell you -- particularly with the hot summer sun shining down through the branches. D proved to be a more efficient picker than me, and filled his bucket in no time. Eventually I filled my pail, too, and we headed back to settle our account. In all, we picked about 20 pounds of cherries.

And let me tell you, pitting 20 pounds of cherries is no joke! I managed to pit about half of them myself (with those cherries ending up in cherry pie filling, recipe to come) and I let D pit the remaining 10 pounds of cherries. Some of those cherries made their way into this recipe for tart cherry jam. This recipe makes a small batch of tasty tart cherry jam. If you don't have access to fresh tart cherries, I bet frozen cherries would also work (though I have not tried this myself). You can keep the recipe simple and stick with a straight cherry flavor, or experiment with the addition of other ingredients, such as vanilla, cinnamon, cardamom, or amaretto/almond flavoring.

Small Batch Tart Cherry Jam (printer-friendly version)
makes 5 half-pints

16 cups (4 pounds) pitted and mashed tart cherries (this should yield about six cups of jammable fruit)
3 cups granulated sugar
1 packet liquid pectin (half a box)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1. Add the fruit and sugar to a large non-reactive stock pot. Bring the mixture to a boil and continue to boil for 20 minutes, skimming and removing foam from the surface occasionally.
2. Stir in the pectin packet and boil for an additional five minutes. Stir in the vanilla. When the jam is ready to can, it will appear thick and viscous. You can use these tips to ensure your jam is good to go.
3. Fill your (sterilized) jars, leaving about a 1/4-inch head space. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes. (Add 5 minutes processing time per 1000 feet in elevation above sea level; I processed our jars for 15 minutes.)
4. Carefully remove the jars from the water bath and let cool on a towel-lined counter or tabletop. After 24 hours, test the seals to ensure each jar sealed correctly.

For additional canning tips, check this guide from the USDA.

(adapted from this Food in Jars recipe)