I came into a glut of cherries this week, picked by a friend from the tree in his mother's garden. He and his wife ate themselves silly while standing on ladders leaned against the tree for picking, then pitted and preserved a whole bunch more, and still had a bucket or two left over after that. Did I want some, they asked. DID I EVER, I replied.
We drove to their place to pick up our loot. Hugo's just learning how to eat around a cherry pit, so we gave him a handful to celebrate with in the backseat while we drove home. "Chays!" he calls them.
The rest I pitted with my thumb and forefinger. These were small cherries and already past their prime. They were easy to pit like this, though my nail beds now look like I've been dabbling in the dark art of butchery. If you have fresher, bigger cherries, you would probably do better by using a cherry pitter, as canning and preserving expert Marisa McClellan says.
It's from Marisa's first book, Food in Jars, that I got the recipe for what I made with those cherries: dark and velvety cherry butter. Don't think of actual butter, though. Think of cherries and sugar cooked down into a thickish, wine-colored mixture, then puréed until as creamy and smooth as, well, butter.
Did you know that I have strong feelings for fruit butters? (Exhibit A: this apple butter, one of the best things on this here website. Exhibit B: the roasted plum butter recipe in My Berlin Kitchen.) I do. I love them: their smooth yet faintly nubby texture, how they manage to be simultaneously tangy and almost toasted in flavor, and the way the fruit used always ends up tasting so concentrated, so deeply of itself, if you know what I mean. I like fruit butters on buttered toast, I like they way they swoop through yogurt (especially if the yogurt is swoopy itself), and I like them spread in a crostata or layered with cream and rolled up in a jelly roll (recipe forthcoming in the German baking book!).
General wisdom around here is that sour cherries are the cherries you want for jam-making, while sweet cherries are the ones you want for eating out of hand. And, you know, if the sweet cherries you can find are so plump and fresh that they crunch when you bite into them, then you should definitely just buy them by the pound and eat them all out of hand, spitting the pits out if possible. That's one of life's great pleasures, full stop.
But. If your sweet cherries are a little old and dented, or if you share my intensity of feeling for silky fruit butters that drop luxuriously from a spoon, then you should try this recipe.
Marisa McClellan's Cherry Butter
Adapted from Food in Jars: Preserving in Small Batches Year-Round
Makes 3-4 8-ounce jars
Note: As the subtitle of Marisa's book says, this is small batch canning - the recipe yields just a few small jars of precious cherry butter, which seems like very little indeed until you consider how long it took you to pit three pounds of cherries. If you can rope someone into helping you, I suggest doubling the recipe below.
3 pounds (1.4 kilos) sweet cherries
2 cups (400 grams) sugar
Juice of 1 lemon
1. Pit the cherries. Wash four small jam jars and their lids in hot soapy water and rinse well. Set aside to air dry.
2. Place the cherries and 1 1/2 cups (300 grams) in a large pot. Set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally. Reduce the heat so that the mixture simmers and let the mixture cook for 60 minutes, stirring every 15 minutes or so.
3. After an hour, the mixture will be reduced and a deep wine color. Take off the heat and purée thoroughly (taking care not to burn yourself with any splatters) with an immersion blender. When the mixture is velvety smooth, taste it - if it needs more sugar, add some of the reserved sugar and stir well. Then stir in the lemon juice.
4. Return the pot to the stove and place over medium heat. The butter will start sputtering pretty quickly. Let it cook for another minute or so, until the butter is thick and spreadable (remember that it will thicken and set more as it cools).
5. Pour the boiling hot butter into the prepared jars, filling them up as far as you can. Wipe the rims, if necessary, then screw on the lids and turn the jars upside down to cool completely. The jam will keep, unopened, for at least 6 months.