After spending hours picking cherries and then standing over a bowl pitting them, I was all for preserving them in the simplest way possible: a recipe requiring water, sugar, and a key step that I somehow forgot.
I’ve been in the cherry business for a few years. I’m not a huge fan of the fruit, but I hate to see anything wasted. In this part of the world, you can’t give them away – everyone has cherry trees, both sweet and sour.
I’ve made an agreement with the birds that they can have the top third of each of our five trees. We get to pick the rest. Then I have to turn them into something that will keep. I froze a kilo for smoothies laying the fruit on a tray and freezing them before packing I learned last year that just putting them in a bag doesn’t work. Chipping away at blocks of frozen fruit isn’t fun. This year I took the time to do it properly.
Jam requires way too much sugar so I leave that alone. I made a few jars of cherry butter. It uses a huge amount of fruit for very little return but it’s tasty and light on sugar. The rest I jarred. I had 15 one-litre jars all nicely done in two batches. The first batch was already in the cold press, tucked away for the winter. The second batch was on the kitchen table ready to be labelled. I was pretty pleased with myself.
Friday was a day off. We’d been invited to the north shore for lunch with friends holidaying in Fófenyes. We needed to leave at 10.30 for the 90-minute journey. At 9.45 I went to the press to get a jar of cherry butter and a jar of my latest rhubarb chutney to bring with me. I was brought up never to go anywhere empty-handed.
When I opened the press, I heard a curious hissing sound. I thought at first it was my ears. But as I knelt down and got closer, it got louder. I noticed some red goo on the shelf and realised my cherries were busily fermenting. Their lovely deep purple had turned that tell-tale pink. I couldn’t figure out what had gone wrong.
I checked the recipe and realised that I hadn’t put them in a water bath and boiled them for 15 minutes as instructed. Ye gods! When I opened the jars, the cherries exploded. Imagine shaking a bottle of coke and then twisting the lid. Same thing. Except that cherry juice stains black. Next time you see me, please don’t ask about the new pink birthmarks on my arms 🙂
It was now 9.50. I figured I could simply remove some cherries from each jar and salvage 8 – 4 to each boil. The rest I’d have to do something else with.
I did the first batch.
But when I took them out, they were still hissing. Stupidly, I opened the first one. I don’t know where my brain was. Boiling hot cherry juice? I should have known better. Lesson learned. Once they’ve started fermenting, there’s no turning back.
I managed to save three. Just three. I could have cried. I did cry. The rest I weighed out and put in pots ready to turn into cherry butter than evening. I left the three I’d saved on the counter covered in a towel hoping that when we got back that evening, they’d still be intact.
I turned 5 kg into cherry cinnamon butter this morning. The rest will go into cherry and almond muffins and my new favourite, cherry chocolate brownies.
Funny thing is, we were to have gone to lunch on Tuesday but the car was in the shop so we changed it to Friday. Tuesday, the cherries were fine. Had I gone then for my chutney, I’d have been none the wiser. It could have been so much worse. Waking to a loud explosion in the middle of the night as jar after jar of fermented cherries shattered, staining everything in sight would not have been pleasant.
Am now grateful the bearings went in my wheel and that the car was in the shop so that we had to change our plans. Deep sigh.
One tree down, four more to go.