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Canning Cherries- Enjoy a Bit of Summer All Year Round

During the full swing of summer activities there is one tradition that dates to the 1700’s, cherry time. While apple pie is the all-American favorite, cherries also have a place in history. It is a shame that George Washington cut down the cherry tree, he missed out on a lot of great tasting treats!

Around the first or second week in July the cherry trees are bright with red shiny cherries. It can be a race to get them before the local birds pick them off, but we usually share nicely.

When we first started our homestead, I planted 2 tart cherry and 2 semi-sweet cherry trees. The semi-sweet have met with the same fate as George’s tree, but the tart cherries are still a favorite. The variety that we have is Montmorency Sour Cherry. They are one of the more common varieties grown in the United States. They originated in Paris, France.

Cherries are packed with health benefits, they are high in vitamin A and C as well as antioxidants. Their juice is a famous home remedy for the aches of arthritis. I must admit that my favorite way to eat cherries may not be the healthiest, but I have not met a cherry pie, cobbler, cheesecake, or crisp that I didn’t like. My way of looking at it is that if I am going to eat dessert, then it is a bonus that maybe, the good at least even out the bad!

Along about July 4th weekend we gear up for cherry picking. It is usually a couple of day event. The first round makes a big dent in the quantity and then a few days later the remainder are ripe for the second picking. The stragglers are donated to the bird population, not that they have not already taken their share.

bowl of cherries

Cherry Time!

We haul out a couple of ladders and the famous ice cream bucket berry/cherry/bean/you name it picking buckets. With a couple on the ladders and one or two more on the ground picking the lower limbs it doesn’t take long to fill several buckets.

Once the cherries are picked it is time to pit the cherries. I wish I had a marvelous method to do this. As it turns out we have a family game– anytime we make a cherry pie, the winner is the one with the most cherry pits collected per piece. I use an old “Cherry Stoner” made by Enterprise Mfg. Co. It does okay, we average 10 remaining pits per pie. It is a trade-off between speed and perfection. Speed usually wins out with all the other things going on.

cherry pitter

Cherry Pitting

Brooke is our designated cherry pitter, a job that she would not want to occur more than once a year, and every other year would be better. It goes quicker with two people. One, usually Brooke, pulls off remaining stems and drops the cherries into the pitter while another, usually me, turns the crank. The pitter works better if you keep turning rather than stop and start.

After all the hard work is done and a couple fresh pies have been made, it is time to can the remaining bounty for the long fruitless winter.

steam canner and ball blue book

Canning Tools

There are some tools of the trade that you need to collect before beginning. • Canning Jars • Canning lids and rings • Canner- water bath or steam • Stock Pot • Small pan to heat jar lids • Funnel • Ladle • Sugar

First, a little information about canners. There are basically 3 types of canners: water bath, pressure, and steam.

The water bath canner is a deep pot with a jar rack in the bottom.  It is filled with water, covering the jars that are being canned by 1″.  It is safe for high acid foods, fruits and jams and jellies. The downfall is that it is heavy when full of water and hard to handle. It takes a long time to bring the water to a boil.

The pressure canner is used for low acid vegetables and meats. It uses little water and is easier to handle, but takes longer to cool down so that it can be opened. 

Until recently, the use of the steam canner was not recommended. In the last few years the University of Wisconsin and Utah State University have both published papers with information indicating that they can be used for jams, jellies, fruit and high acid foods. For these cherries I have used the steam canner. The biggest advantage is that the small amount of water required is quick to heat up. The canner is light weight and easy to move even full of water.

For more information about the steam canner:

After pitting the cherries, I put them in a stock pot with ½ cup of water per quart. Add sugar for a light syrup, ¾ cup of sugar per 6 ½ cups of water. Bring to a boil.

cherries in stock pot

Heating Cherries

Wash jars in soapy water.

canning jars in water

Canning Jars

The jars and lids need to be heated. The jars can either be heated in water to 180 degrees or washed and held hot in a dishwasher until filled. The beauty of the steam canner is that it is not necessary to wait for the water bath canner full of water to heat up, so I use the dishwasher method. The lids go into a small saucepan of water heated to a simmer.

heating canning lids

Heating Canning Lids

Fill the base of the steamer to just under the jar platform. Place it on a large burner and turn on low to start to warm the water while filling the jars.

Now that everything is hot, it is time to put it all together. Use the canning funnel and ladle the hot cherries into a quart jar. Wipe off any drips on the jar and put the lid and ring on. Set it on the platform in the canner.

canning cherries

Filling Canning Jars

Once all jars have been filled put the lid on the canner. Turn up the temperature to get the water boiling. My canner has a dial at the top to see when the temperature is high enough to time it. You need to know your altitude to know which section to follow.

With steam bellowing out of the canner and the dial in the green, it is count down time. For quart jars of cherries, the processing time is 20 minutes for either a steam canner or a boiling water bath canner.

steam canner steaming

Steam Canner Heating Up

After the 20 minutes, turn off the burner and remove the canner lid and let the jars cool.

quart jars of cherries

Ready for the Pantry

Then it is time to take a step back and admire your hard work. There is a great deal of satisfaction in a pantry full of home canned food!

For more information on home canning check out the USDA Complete Canning Guide.Disclaimer– this is the process that I use to can dilly beans and it works for me. Please consult your local extension office for more canning information or Ball Blue Book- canning book is a great resource.

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