When I came home tonight with twenty pounds of cherries, it was clear that this wasn't the kind of Friday we had in store.
Since we're in the thick of cherry season here in Oregon (happy 4th, ya'll!), prices are at their lowest and the produce is at its peak. It's the teeny window of time to buy copious amounts of the harvest and launch a preservation project. At only $1.49 a pound this week (down from about six times that the rest of the year), this was the moment to embark on the project I'd been wanting to do for several years: home-canned cherry pie filling. The recipe got bumped in 2010 because I had just started the MFA and I didn't have the foresight to order Clear Jell ahead of time, and last year this was right around the time I was saying "go to hell, Company Which Will Remain Nameless" and started the job search/interview/see ya process. This year, thanks to my can't-go-back-to-life-without-it Amazon Prime membership, the essential Clear Jell was on my doorstep in two days and I picked up 36 cups worth of cherries on my lunch break.
Clear Jell is a modified corn starch that thickens up like nobody's business. It produces more reliable, consistent results than standard cornstarch, and is available online from places like the aforementioned Amazon for not a lot of money. I've been unsuccessful in finding any at a retail store close by, though I'd suspect that Mirador Store would be a good bet if you're in Portland. Not to mention it's a fun trip out there.
So. Twenty pounds. Three of the biggest mixing bowls I could conjure. One cherry pitter. Shockingly, the project didn't take us as long as I'd feared. Switching between stemming and pitting duty, we finished in about an hour or so. The recipe I found on Simple Bites made only one quart, so I increased it four and five-fold for two separate, 4- and 5-quart batches. Once the cherries are all pitted, the batches actually go very quickly. The cherries get a quick blanche, and the sugar and Clear Jell, plus spices, cook up to a thick boiling slurry in less than ten minutes. I was delighted when we mixed together the cherries and sugar mixture, and it turned into what looked exactly like canned cherry pie filling... except it still tasted like real cherries and the fruit didn't look all fake and sad. I stole a few bites of the last batch, and I can testify that this isn't just a pretty canning face. I could look at these jars all day, yes, but the fresh, still toothsome fruit with the hints of cinnamon and allspice were divine. This would make some of the best waffle topping ever. Speaking of which, I need a waffle iron. One of the few things I never did invest in. Although that damn avocado peeler is still in the drawer.
Now that I've popped my canned pie filling cherry (ugh, sorry, I couldn't resist), there's no stopping me. There are so many fall and winter pies waiting to be filled! So much Clear Jell to order! The summer produce season has just barely started. Sterilize those jars, my friends. It's going to be one hell of a year.
Cherry Pie Filling Recipe from Simple Bites
- 4 cups cherries
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 Tablespoons Clear Jel
- 1 cup water
- 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/8 teaspoon allspice
- 2 Tablespoons lemon juice
Wash and pit the cherries. In a large nonreactive pot filled with boiling water, blanch the cherries for a minute, then drain. Pour the hot cherries into a bowl and cover.
In the same pot, mix together sugar and Clear Jel. Slowly add the water, whisking to help Clear Jel dissolve evenly. Don’t worry too much if it clumps up – it should dissolve as it heats up. Add the spices and heat over medium-high, until sugar and Clear Jel are dissolved and mixture is starting to bubble. Add the lemon juice and boil for about a minute.
Remove from heat and gently stir in cherries and any accumulated juices. Pour filling into prepared jar(s), wipe rim and set lid on top. Screw ring on finger-tight, and using a jar grabber carefully lower the jar into the water bath.
Process for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove and let rest on the counter until completely cooled. Any jars that have not sealed should be refrigerated and used promptly.