Early summer is here and that means soft fruits. However much we love eating them it is always fabulous to find some in the depth of winter to remind of the summer gone and even better for the one to come.
I’m in Bulgaria at the moment, having driven through Hungry and Romania where cherries are everywhere – on stalls on the roadside, in the villages and in supermarkets. I always buy my fruit from the same stall in the local village where the quality is good and the ladies who own the stall can understand my pigeon Bulgarian (a few numbers, please and thank you and a lot of pointing!).
So apart from just eating the cherries out of the bag I am going to preserve some for the Autumn and Winter. Sugar and alcohol are great preservers and you can choose any alcohol you wish. There are lots of recipes for bourbon cherries but as I don’t like bourbon that is not going to happen. You can use amaretto, whiskey, brandy or anything you have at home. I am using vanilla vodka left over from a party when Rica was making cocktails.
I am filling 6 jars each 250ml, which takes about 250g of stoned cherries pushed in really tight.
You will need:
1.5kg of stoned cherries (about 1.75kg of cherries depending on how many you eat whilst you stone them)
500ml of water
1 lemon (zest and juice)
300g of granulated sugar
Vanilla pod or 1 tsp of vanilla bean paste (optional depending on the alcohol). If you do not have either vanilla extract will also work. If you do have a vanilla pod never through it away when finished with but have a large jar of caster sugar and add all pods to that and they will impart their flavour and then you will have vanilla sugar.
6 tbs of alcohol (I have used Vanilla vodka left over from a party!) or a little more if you like a stronger flavour but be careful you can add more but not take it out.
Sterilise your jars – see previous post
When stoning cherries you can buy a great little contraption, which stones cherries and olives. You can get one in most larger supermarkets or online. You can get a stoner machine but I have always found this one great. It makes stoning very easy and though possible by hand – by cutting the cherries in half and going round the stone with a small, sharp knife – I don’t think I would bother. I’m stoning my cherries whilst watching my favourite medical drama!
Once you have stoned the cherries continue to prepare the syrup. Zest and juice the lemon – always zest a lemon first otherwise once juiced the skin goes all squidgy and you will never get the zest off. To zest for this recipe you will need to grate your zest with the small grater (the next one down from the cheese grater). Do not use a traditional zester, which gives you long strips of zest and the flavour will not impart as well. You will need about 3-4 tbs of lemon juice.
Add the zest, juice, water, vanilla pod or paste (if using) and sugar to a saucepan. Bring to the boil on a medium heat until the sugar has dissolved and then cook for a further minute. Taste the syrup to ensure that you like it and think it goes with the cherries. Adjust if you think it needs it for example add more vanilla and/or lemon. Get use to trusting your taste buds. Strain the syrup through a sieve.
Add a tablespoon of your chosen alcohol to each jar and then add the syrup to the jars. Make sure you push the cherries down into the jars and cover the cherries with the syrup. Make sure that there are no air holes by using the handle of a teaspoon pressed into the jar to ensure that the syrup gets into all spaces. I once made sun-dried tomatoes without doing this (next post) and didn’t get all of the air out and the tomatoes started to ferment!
Add the lids and tip upside down to mix the syrup with the alcohol, label and store until the you need some reminder of early summer.