Sunday's trip to the farmer's market was all about berries. I haven't eaten nearly enough strawberries considering it's already June, I definitely had raspberry jam on the mind, and I'm sure brandied cherries are the missing ingredient in my quest for perfect Manhattans and Old Fashioneds. All three wants were fulfilled, mostly. We still have to wait a month to taste the brandied cherries.
For some reason jam has always been the one canning thing that I'm a little timid to try. Chutneys and pickles, no problem, but until this weekend I'd never actually made jam all on my own. Overall my first attempt turned out fairly well. It looks gorgeous, made more than I expected, and took very little time in the kitchen. The only bummer is the jam didn't set up quite as well as I would have liked, but I'd prefer to have runny jam than overly gelatinous. This runny version makes a damn fine ice cream topping too.
I'm fairly certain it's just a matter of me getting the hang of working with pectin. In Dan's recent batches of pepper jelly and strawberry jam he's been using Pomona's Universal Pectin, a no sugar, calcium activated pectin from citrus peel. We like the no sugar part because we both like less sweet jams and since the calcium activates the pectin we could even use honey or agave if we wanted. However, it's a bit more trial and error.
I followed a recipe from Put 'em Up! by Sherri Brooks Vinton that actually called for Pomona's, but it still came out runny. Another bonus with Pomona's is that you can reset the jam if you like. So this weekend I may add a little more pectin and re-can. We'll see how ambitious I get.
The brandied cherries on the other hand I'm fairly certain will rock. We may also have to break into them early. That way we'll know if we need to tweak the recipe before we make more, which will definitely happen before the end of the season. I used this recipe from Imbibe Magazine, but instead of cooking the cherries in the liquid I poured the hot liquid into jars packed with cherries and then processed for 10 minutes.
The hardest part was pitting all 2 1/2 lbs of cherries, without a pitter. We searched YouTube for some tips to make it easier and the best one seemed to be using a paperclip to reach in and pull the cherry out. I make it sound much easier than it was, but the pairing knife was much worse. A cherry pitter is definitely on our short list of kitchen tools.