These cherries come with a back-story and it all started (for me) with a post about a cake on JJ’s blog at 84th and 3rd - this post took my breath away.
The cake in and of itself is the sort of cake you would make for guests coming over for afternoon tea. However, then you would sneak sliver after sliver for yourself before your guests arrive only to be left, shamefully and apologetically, with only half a cake. You wouldn't be able to serve this cake to your guests (for fear that your little secret might be revealed) so you end up serving them Tim Tams on a plate, with the other half of the cake safely squirreled away to be consumed Nigella style from the fridge as a midnight snack…
The key ingredient in this cake that made my eyes grow wide and my heart skip a beat were sour cherries - tiny, tart and almost cartoon-like in appearance. The week before, I had been in Orange and had visited two separate farm gates in a vain attempt to find these cherries but had no luck. You see, I wanted to make homemade maraschino cherries.My friend and I were talking about making homemade maraschinos before Christmas and we both set about making them with the large, black cherries so gloriously abundant around that time of the year – but you should really make them with their sour cousins. The problem there is that they are so dang rare! The ones I made with the black cherries are good (great even) but they are not the same and I will probably end up eating them from the jar– solid-cocktail-meal-style.
JJ had managed to find her sour cherries via a tweet from Katie at The Farm Gate by Nashdale Fruit Co. They were selling sour Morelos at the Orange Grove Farmers Markets here in Sydney.
I was too late to jump on this but upon closer inspection I found out that The Farm Gate is located literally down the road from where my parents live in Orange. By stroke of luck, they were selling some of their last morellos of the season at the Orange (not Orange Grove) Farmers Market that weekend. After careful orchestration and a timely visit to Sydney from my parents, I had 500 grams of morellos in my hot little hands! "Operation Sour Cherry" was a success thanks to JJ, Katie and my legend of a Mum who always brings the best produce to Sydney.So I made my maraschinos and successfully removed the pips (using a paper-clip while keeping the stems intact in half of my haul. However, one can tire from the delicate task of removing stones with a paper-clip you get to a point where you just want to squeeze the life out of them and make some jam.
I made the jam using jam setting sugar because there was no room for error. If I mess around with natural pectins in lemons or whatever, things could go awry and then where would I be? Without my sour cherries, that’s where.
No, there are times for short cuts and this is one of them. My handy-dandy sugar thermometer also made for a stress-free jamming situation. The sour cherries were deserving of a fresh vanilla bean.
I slathered it on some pumpernickel with cream cheese for a snack: you must try this with any cherry jam you can get your hands on – it’s the business.
I can also imagine myself glazing a Christmas ham with it but I doubt that it will last that long.
Like I said, "Operation Sour Cherry" was a success. Nevertheless, I would not want to repeat that next season. Next season I will be armed and ready with paper-clip in hand.
Sour Cherry and Vanilla Bean Jam
500g Morello cherries (sour cherries)
1 Vanilla Bean
Wash and pit your cherries and add them to a large, heavy based pot. Put a small plate in the freezer (we'll get to this later).
Split the vanilla bean and scrape out the seeds with the back of a knife. Add the seeds to the pot along with the pod and the sugar.
Bring to the boil and boil for around 5 minutes
Take the plate out of the freezer and drop a small amount of jam onto the plate. Wait around 10 seconds and then gently run your finger through the jam (on the plate) - if it wrinkles then it is ready.
Another way to tell is to use a candy thermometer. Once the temperature reaches the "jam setting stage" it should be ready.
Carefully (CAREFULLY!) ladle the jam into sterilised jars, use a cloth to attach the lid and leave to cool. Label your jars and store in a cool, dark place.
Homemade Maraschino CherriesAdapted from Katherine Martinelli
1 cup sour cherries, washed
1 cup cherry liqueur - Luxardo is recommended - 1:1
1/4 cup of sugar for every cup of liqueur and cherries
Pit the cherries by inserting a sterilised metal skewer (or paper clip, as I used) just beside the stem. Gently push the skewer through until you feel the stone. Keep gently pushing on the stone until it pops out the bottom. You should have the stem intact and little damage to the bottom of the cherry.
Trim the brown, nubbly ends off the stems and set aside.
Heat the liqueur and the sugar in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Do not bring to the boil.
Add the cherries and stir them around in the syrup for a couple of minutes.
Ladle the cherries into a jar and pour over the syrup and seal tightly.
Leave to cool.
Store in the fridge