Cornelian cherries are new additions to our permaculture homestead and I’m just beginning to incorporate them into my cooking. One of the simplest ways to use cornelian cherries is homemade jam. The fruits contain plenty of pectins and all you’ll need is a bit of sugar and lemon juice to make homemade cornelian cherry preserves.
Cornelian cherries are really easy to grow and they’re still grown in mass throughout eastern Europe, Greece, and the middle east where they’re eaten fresh or made into traditionally spiced preserves, syrups, and liqueurs. I think they taste lovely right off the tree, but I also love fresh black currants and homegrown cranberries right off the plant too.
In the middle east, they’re eaten fresh with a bit of salt to bring out the sweetness. For most palates though, sugar is needed to cut through the mild astringency in the fruit.
The flesh of cornelian cherries is quite soft, and I expected that it would fall away from the large pit after just a few minutes of cooking. I was sadly mistaken. After about 40 minutes of simmering, the fruits were still mostly whole and not showing any signs of breaking apart when I poured them through a fine mesh strainer.
I used the back of a wooden spoon to mash the cornelian cherries against the mesh of the strainer, and they still weren’t giving up. It took about 15 minutes of stirring and mashing to scrape the last of the fruit off of the large oval-shaped pits. They’re remarkably resilient for such soft fruits, and they really didn’t want to give up.
I started the pulp and the juice simmering again on the stove and added sugar and lemon juice. My first taste was just the syrupy juice in the pan and it was heavenly. Later I tried a full spoonful as it cooked, with pulp and juice and the flavor was markedly different. The pulp of cornelian cherries contains the astringency, while the delicate floral flavor is held in the juice.
This time I made a cornelian cherry jam, but next time I’m going to skip the time-consuming task of scraping the pulp from the seeds and just make a simple cornelian cherry jelly. The juice tastes much better than the pulp, and I could have saved a lot of effort just pouring the whole pot through a jelly bag.
In the end, the cornelian cherry jam separates a bit anyway. The pulp doesn’t really ever incorporate fully into the syrupy juice. A spoonful of the jam out of the jar shows little bits of pulp and quite a bit of syrup. If you taste them both separately I bet you’ll agree that the jelly is much more agreeable.
Next up to try is a cornelian cherry liqueur, which would be much easier to make. Just soak the fresh cornelian cherries in vodka for a month or two, then filter and add simple syrup.
Cornelian Cherry Jam (or Jelly)
Cornelian cherries make a delicious sweet-tart jam with a lot of character.
- 4 cups Cornelian Cherries
- 4 cups water (add more if necessary)
- 2 cups sugar
- 1/4 cup lemon juice
- 3-4 cardamom pods
Simmer the cornelian cherries in water for 30-40 minutes. Keep the pot covered to prevent it from running dry, and keep adding water as necessary to keep the fruit covered.
Once the fruits are soft, pour them through a fine mesh strainer (for jam) or a jelly bag for jelly. If making jam, us a wooden spoon to mash the cherries in the strainer so that the pulp goes through but the seeds remain.
Put the juice and pulp (for jam) or just the juice (for jelly) back into the pan.
Add sugar, lemon juice and spices (if using). Simmer until the mixture begins to gel. Test the mixture on a plate you've placed in the freezer. Once it's reached a good consistency, pour the hot jam into prepared canning jars.
Store the cornelian cherry jam in the refrigerator or process in a water bath canner. Process half-pint jars for 10 minute in a water bath canner, with 1/4 inch of headspace.