Rainier cherries are a real treat, but they have such a short season. Homemade rainier cherry jam allows you to preserve their unique flavor and enjoy it all year round. It’s very different from most cherry jams, and tastes bright, with notes of citrus. It almost tastes more like apricot jam than cherry, but that’s still not quite right. Rainier cherry jam is something you have to really taste to understand, but that’s easy enough because it only takes a few minutes to make at home.
My husband grew up in the pacific northwest, the land of cherries. He tells stories about spending afternoons under a Rainier cherry tree, eating cherries until he was about to pop. As an adult, he has a little more restraint, but not much. If we had a Rainier cherry tree, he’d be parked under it. I made this jam special for him, to remind him of those sunny days when we’re snowed in here in Vermont this winter.
The fruits themselves are half yellow and half red/orange and I was hoping to maintain some of the color. The first batch I made was cooked longer, with more starting liquid. With a longer cook time, the red shined through and made a much darker jam. This time, I tried a short cook time and just barely mashed the cherries into a jam before canning. That retained much more of their glorious yellow color in the finished jam.
Start by pitting the cherries. I used to do this with a sharp paring knife, and that works well enough, especially given that the cherries will be cut in half before they go into the jam pot. It can be a pain because many of the cherries will stick to the pit. I’m now using a handheld cherry pitter, and then I cut them in half. It takes about the same amount of time, but it’s much less frustrating to dig out the pits.
Once the cherries are pitted and cut in half, add them to a saucepan with a tiny bit of lemon juice. About a tablespoon to every 3 cups of cherries. I learned recently that while most fruits are high acid and perfect for canning, some varieties are lower acid and are tricky to can. While it’s easy to can peaches at home, white peaches cannot be canned because they’re low acid. The same thing is true of pears, which can be canned, but Asian pears cannot.
I cannot find any information about the acidity of Rainier cherries, so I’m adding a bit of extra lemon juice just to be safe. They taste much more acidic than regular cherries, and even if they were borderline, adding a tablespoon of lemon juice per pint of cherries is more than enough to bring down the pH.
Cook the cherries until they release their juices and the liquid begins to boil. Give them a few quick mashes with a potato masher to break them up a bit, and then add in the sugar and pectin.
I’m using Pomona’s Pectin, which is a low sugar powdered pectin that’s made from citrus. The box comes with calcium water, and that’s used as an activator for the natural citrus pectin. Since the pectin has a calcium activator, it doesn’t require high levels of sugar to gel. Many canning recipes have you add 1 part sugar to 1 part fruit, but in this one, I’m using 1/4 cup sugar to 1 cup fruit. Feel free to add more to suit your tastes.
Once you jar up the jam, it can be processed in a water bath canner for 10 minutes or simply stored in the refrigerator.
Rainier Cherry Jam
Rainier cherry jam captures the unique flavor of rainier cherries. It tastes more like apricot jam or citrus marmalade than cherry and is a one of a kind treat.
- 3 cups Rainier Cherries pitted and halved
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp calcium water (included with pomona's pectin)
- 3/4 cups sugar
- 1 tsp Pomona's pectin added to sugar
Wash, pit and halve the cherries. Add them to a saucepan with the lemon juice and bring them to a boil.
Cook the cherries for a few minutes until they release their juices, and then mash gently with a potato masher.
Add the calcium water into the boiling cherries.
Add the powdered Pomona's pectin into the sugar and stir to completely incorporate. This step is important because it prevents the pectin from clumping when it hits the hot fruit.
Add the sugar and pectin mixture into the boiling fruit and stir to completely incorporate. Cook for an additional 1-2 minutes until the mixture begins to gel.
Ladle the jam into prepared canning jars, leaving 1/4 inch headspace. Process for 10 minutes in a water bath canner, or store in the refrigerator.
This recipe makes 1 pint of jam or two half-pint jam jars. It can safely be tripled, to make up to half-pint jars at once.