Up North and Off the Grid: Sour Cherries and Summer Memories

One day several years ago, I was admiring the fresh fruit at our local farmers’ market.  There were these odd looking cherries that caught my eye.  They weren’t the large dark sweet cherries I’d grown used to; they were small, and sort of translucent pale red.  And they weren’t firm, they were squishy.

The farmer saw my puzzled look, and suggested I try one of them.  I did.  Then suddenly, I was 7 years old again, climbing the sour cherry tree outside our kitchen door.  A flood of wonderful childhood memories filled my soul.  How could I have forgotten the amazing joy of sour cherries?

We actually had 4 big old cherry trees in our yard.  Three were along the side of the long driveway and were best remembered for the sturdy branches that held our swing.  Those three sweet cherry trees gave us less than half the amount of cherries we got from the one sour cherry tree beside the house.

For a few weeks each summer we would indulge our desire with all the cherries we could eat.  And pies!  We would pick gallons of cherries for fresh pies in the early months of summer.  And we would pick gallons more to preserve for pies through the year.  I wonder who pitted all those cherries?  That memory is lost.

Sadly, the modern southern Ontario farmers don’t bring their cherries to our local market anymore.  All the fresh cherries we see are imported.  But on a happier note, the Ontario sour cherries are carried by many of the grocery stores.  Not freshly picked  and presented in baskets as they used to be – the cherries now come in gallon buckets.  And this is a good thing, because they have already been pitted!

I buy a bucket or two each summer,  I snack on them right from the bucket.  Some go into baggies in the freezer, and some are made into jam.

Here’s my recipe: Place 4 cups of fresh cherries and their juice in a 2 quart saucepan.. (any summer fruit can be used). Add a tablespoon of lemon juice, and bring it to a boil. Meanwhile, measure 1 cup of sugar and mix in 2 teaspoons of Pomona’s Universal Pectin.  When the fruit has come to a boil, stir in the sugar mixture all at once.  Bring it back to a boil, then continue stirring constantly for a full minute. Turn off the heat and let it rest for a minute, then pour the jam into small jars.  The 4:1 fruit to sugar ratio makes for a very delicious fruity jam.

This will keep in the fridge for 2 weeks (ha…as if it would last that long!)  To save a few jars for winter, they must be sterilized in a boiling water bath.  While the jam is still hot, put on a sealable lid and place the jars into a large pot of boiling water.  The water must cover the top of the jars by at least half an inch.  Boil gently for 10 minutes, then allow the jars to cool.  Well sealed in this way, the jam will keep for years on the shelf.  The jam must be kept in the fridge once the seal is broken.

Here’s to summer memories, all year long.

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