So easy and rewarding! You don't even have to process these; just store them in the refrigerator, where they'll keep for at least a couple months (you might want to halve the quantities, though, for the sake of refrigerator shelf space). They are a great excuse for making Sidecars or Manhattans, or Roast Cornish Hens - that is, if you can resist swiping them from the jar.
Makes about 6 half-pint jars
Prepare for water-bath canning: Sterilize the jars and keep them hot in the canning pot, put a small plate in the freezer, and put the flat lids in a heatproof bowl (see Notes.)
In a wide, 6- to 8-quart preserving pan, combine the brandy, wine, sugar, and orange zest. Bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Boil for 5 minutes, then add the cherries, return to a boil, and lower the heat and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the cherries are tender but still hold their shape, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Ladle boiling water from the canning pot into the bowl with the lids. Using a jar lifter, remove the sterilized jars from the canning pot, carefully pouring the water from each one back into the pot, and place them upright on a folded towel. Drain the water off the jar lids.
Ladle the hot cherries and syrup into the jars, leaving ¼ inch headspace at the top. Use a damp paper towel to wipe the rims of the jars, then put a flat lid and ring on each jar, adjusting the ring so that it's just finger-tight. Return the jars to the water in the canning pot, making sure the water covers the jars by at least 1 inch. Bring to a boil, and boil for 5 minutes to process. Remove the jars to a folded towel and do not disturb for 12 hours. After 1 hour, check that the lids have sealed by pressing down on the center of each; if it can be pushed down, it hasn't sealed, and the jar should be refrigerated immediately. Label the sealed jars and store.
Cherry Pitting: You Have Options
At U-pick cherry orchards, my dad likes to ask the proprietors which row the pitless cherries are in (her), But until that travesty hits the grocery stores alongside seedless-and bland-watermelons, pit we must. For jam, or for any application in which the cherries can (or should) be chopped or broken down into pieces, a mechanical cherry pitter is perfectly acceptable. The Oxo cherry-and-olive pitter is pretty effective and easy to use. For preserves, in which you want the cherries to retain their shape as much as possible, however, the best tool is one that leaves only one hole in the fruit, and that would be a large regular paperclip. Unfold it so that there's a bight, or bend, at each end. Hold the large bend in your dominant hand, the cherry in your other hand, and insert the small bend into the top of the cherry. Gently lever and pull the pit out. This method works best with fresh, tender sour cherries (after you have a quarter pound of cherries under your belt it'll become second nature, and will likely be faster than the Oxo); it works somewhat less well with very firm sweet cherries that have been refrigerated.
Canning Step by Step:
1. Prepare for water-bath canning: It will probably take half an hour or so to bring the water in your canning pot to a boil, so fill it up and put it on the heat well in advance (when the recipe says "Prepare for water-bath canning" is a good time). Wash the jars well, then submerge them in the water as it heats up. If the recipe says to sterilize the jars, make sure the water covering the jars has been at a full boil for at least 10 minutes before pulling them out and filling them. If the filled jars will be processed for 10 minutes or longer, there's no need to sterilize them first, as they'll be sterilized during processing.
Clear off some counter or table space by the stovetop and set two folded towels nearby: one to put hot empty jars on for filling, and one to put the filled jars on when they come out of the canning pot (the latter should be in an out-of-the-way spot, if possible, where the jars can remain undisturbed for 12 hours). The towels will absorb heat from the jars and protect the counter surfaces. I also put a hot pad near the stovetop to put the preserving pan on when I'm ladling preserves or hot vinegar brine into the jars.
Gather everything you'll need:
* a jar lifter or tongs with rubber bands wrapped around the ends
* a small heatproof bowl or saucepan (put new, clean flat jar lids in it, and pile the clean metal jar rings next to it)
* a ladle or 1-cup measure for ladling preserves or brine into the jars
* a wide-mouth funnel for filling the jars (this is optional, but it helps prevent mishaps)
* a wooden or plastic chopstick or small, thin plastic spatula for removing air bubbles around the inside of each jar
* a clean paper towel for wiping the jar rims after filling
2. Make the preserve or pickle as described in the recipe.
3. Fill the jars: When the preserve is ready or the pickle brine has come to a boil, remove it from the heat.
Use the jar lifter to lift the hot jars out of the boiling or simmering water, empty the water back into the pot, and set the jars upright on one of the folded towels. Ladle hot water from the canning pot into the bowl with the jar lids. (I usually just pour in the hot water from the first jar I remove from the canning pot.) This will soften the rubberized ring of sealing compound around the underside of each lid so that it adheres to the jars and seals properly. Make sure that the lids aren't stacked tightly together, which can prevent water from coming into contact with the seal. You don't have to actually simmer the lids on the stovetop, and you shouldn't boil them (this could damage the sealing compound); as long as the water is about at a simmer when you ladle it in, they'll be fine.
If filling with fruit preserves, put the funnel in the first hot jar and ladle in the hot preserves, keeping the ladle as low and close to the funnel as possible to prevent too many bubbles from forming in the jar. Fill to ¼ inch from the top. Repeat with the remaining jars, then put the lids on and process as below.
If filling with uncooked room-temperature vegetables or fruit (what's known as "raw pack"), just pack them in the jars, not too tightly unless the recipe says to pack tightly. There should be enough space between the solids for the brine or syrup to flow around them to heat them up evenly as they're processed. Put the funnel in the mouth of the first jar and ladle in the syrup or brine. Repeat with the remaining jars, then put the lids on and process as below.
If filling with hot cooked solid fruit or vegetables, use a slotted spoon to transfer them from the cooking liquid to the jars, then ladle in the hot cooking liquid. Put the lids on and process as below.
4. Put the lids on and process the jars: Run the chopstick around the inside of each jar to pop any largeish bubbles (tiny ones are okay). Dip the paper towel in hot water and use it to wipe the rims and outside threads of the jars clean of any dripped preserves, syrup, or brine-these can prevent a seal from forming between the sealing compound and the jar. Put the flat lids on the jars, white side down, then put the rings on, tightening them just finger-tight-don't force them at all. (I hold the flat lid down gently with one finger and screw on the rings with the fingertips of my other hand.) You don't want the rings to be screwed too tight, because the air in the jar needs to escape as the contents are heated in the canning pot. When all the lids and rings are on, use the jar lifter to carefully return the jars to the hot water in the canning pot, making sure they're standing upright on the rack and not touching one another or the sides of the pot and that the water covers them by at least 1 inch. Turn up the heat, cover the pot, and bring the water in the canning pot to a full boil. Boil for the time indicated in the recipe plus additional time if you live more than 1,000 feet above sea level (see right). Remove the jars to the second, out-of-the-way towel on the countertop to cool. It's most important that jellies be allowed to cool for 12 hours before the jars are disturbed at all-moving them could break the gel.
5. Turn off the burner and pop open a cold beer, 'cause you're done. Well, almost. Remember to check, after the jars have cooled for about an hour, that the lids have sealed properly. This is easy to do: Press down in the center of the flat lid. If it doesn't move, the jar has sealed. If it pops down and then up again, it has not sealed; refrigerate the jar immediately and use the contents. Another way to check that a lid has sealed is to remove the ring, grip the lid with your thumb and middle finger, and slowly lift it straight up. If the lid comes off, obviously it hasn't sealed. Label the cooled jars and store them in a cool dark spot. Then, for goodness sake, use them!
Adjusting For Altitude:
Because of lower atmospheric pressure at higher elevations, water boils at lower temperatures, and this means it will take longer to kill off spoilers. So find your approximate elevation, and make the following adjustments as necessary:
* To sterilize jars, boil for 10 minutes, plus 1 minute for every 1,000 feet above sea level you live.
* If the recipe specifies processing in boiling water for 20 minutes or less, increase the processing time by 1 minute for every 1.000 feet above sea level you live.
* If the recipe specifies processing in boiling water for more than 40 minutes increase the processing time by 2 minutes for every 1,000 feet above sea level you live.