After a few fun-filled days around the Fourth of July spent in Lyle, Washington last year, my little family headed over to Maryhill, Washington, land of vineyards, orchards, hot weather, and wind turbines. We had one thing on our minds: sweet cherries. My sisters had stopped by the Maryhill Fruit Stand earlier in the week. They kept talking about how they bought a bag of cherries and ate it before they even made it back to the car, the fruit was so sweet.
U-pick was just $1 a pound (apricots, too). My husband and I had talked about picking cherries for years; we needed to track this place down.
Pulling up to the fruit stand, the sign confirmed the price: $1/pound, as long as you picked a minimum of 20 pounds. Not a problem. At least, not until I talked to the teenager running the stand. Apparently, the fields close at 5pm, and we were pushing 4:30 already. “We’ll pick fast!” I promised as I hopped back in the car with three empty boxes. And that’s exactly what we did.
While my daughter pointed out the best fruit on the branches and my son scavenged the worst fruit off the ground, my husband and I tumbled big, juicy cherries into the boxes as fast as we could. We totally lost track of time, and an employee kindly informed us that it was quittin’ time at 5:20pm. It’s the first time I shut a field down.
Grand total: 45 pounds of Bing and Rainier cherries in 50 minutes. They charged us $40 and threw in a jar of peach jam for free. Not bad.
Over the next few days, we ate as many fresh cherries as we could humanly handle. Then I flash froze five large baking trays of pitted cherries for use throughout the year, using Sunset’s method for pitting large quantities of cherries quickly. Nothing amazing, but it worked just fine. An even better idea? Tackling this project while a friend was over for “lunch.”
I had a game plan for the majority of the cherries: canning them whole in a light syrup. Our friend Laurie brought us a jar of these after the birth of my son two years ago, and they hit the spot. They reminded me of eating them as a kid; sweet memories of summer in a jar.
If you are new to canning, cherries are actually a great place to start. The steps are really simple and straightforward. While you certainly could, I didn’t even pit the fruit. In this post, I will break it down with as many details and pictures as I can add, but don’t be intimidated. Like any other skill, just tackle it one step at a time and build from there.
How to Can Cherries
In this post, I will be showing the raw pack method. Let’s get started!
The best way to avoid getting overwhelmed during the canning process is to prep as much as possible ahead of time, especially if you are working alone.
- Canner (pictured is actually a pressure canner, but I used it like a standard water bath canner) filled halfway with warm water, starting to simmer over medium-low heat. You can find a standard water bath canner at Fred Meyer, Walmart, Bimart or on Amazon.
- Small pot with lids and rings. Simmer (don’t boil) for 10 minutes to sanitize everything and soften the seal on the lids.
- Larger pot with syrup. I have read several different guidelines for this sugar-water solution. I went with Ball’s guidelines for a light syrup: 4 1/2 cups of sugar and 10 1/2 cups of water for 7 quarts (one canner). According to OSU’s extension services, in this case it is a matter of personal taste. You could go as light as 3/4 cup of sugar to 6 1/2 cups of water. The syrup helps maintain the color, flavor, and texture of the fruit. Bring to a boil until the sugar is dissolved; keep at a low simmer over medium-low heat.
Thoroughly wash, stem, and drain the cherries. Each quart holds 2-2 1/2 pounds of cherries. One canner holds 7 quarts, so you’ll need a maximum of 18 pounds of fruit. Halve the amounts for pints.
You can leave the cherry pits in or take them out. According to Ball’s Blue Book, if you don’t pit your cherries, you should prick each one to avoid bursting in the jar. I personally skipped this step because I could think of about a hundred other things I would rather do than pit and poke pounds and pounds of cherries. Split cherries won’t bother me, but if you are going for that blue ribbon at the state fair, then by all means don’t let me stand in your way.
Working with hot jars (Sanitize and heat jars in the dishwasher or submerged for 10 minutes in boiling water in the canner), carefully ladle 1/2 cup of hot syrup into each one. If you are new to this, just work with one jar at a time to keep everything hot and manageable. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to fill 7 jars quickly.
Fill the jars with clean cherries.
Gently shake jars to help settle the cherries, leaving 1/2″ of headspace (room) at the top, about the bottom of the jar threads.
Add enough hot syrup to each jar to cover the cherries and still leave 1/2″ headspace. You will have some syrup left over.
Using a non-metallic utensil, gently slide it along the inside of the jar to release any trapped air bubbles.
Wipe the jar rims with a clean cloth. Place the hot lids and rings on each jar and tighten finger-tight.
Using a jar lifter, place each jar into your hot water canner. The jars should still be warm from preheating and the hot syrup, and the canner water should be at a simmer, around 180 degrees. Cold jars in hot water is bad news. Your jars will crack and all your hard work will be lost. Try to work quickly and carefully. Again, you could do this step one jar at a time to keep things hot.
Make sure your jars are covered by 1-2 inches of water and place the lid on the canner.
Bring to a rolling boil. Process both pints and quarts for 25 minutes (start timing once the water is boiling).
When the time is up, turn off the heat, remove the canner lid, and allow the jars to sit for a few minutes in the canner. Using the jar lifter, remove each hot jar to a cooling rack.
As each jar cools, the lids should seal and make a satisfying popping sound. Once cool, lightly run your finger over the lid to check that it has sucked in and sealed tightly. Any jars that don’t seal can be frozen, reprocessed, or stored in the refrigerator.
After each jar is completely cool (12-24 hours), remove the rings and rinse the jars.
Store in a cool, dry, dark place.
Are you new to canning? Be sure to go through our Home Canning Guide posts for a beginners guide, equipment suggestions, and recipes!
- Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving: An inexpensive, must-have guide, packed with information on food preservation.
- North Portland Preserve & Serve: This is a cool concept for attending inexpensive classes (10!), borrowing supplies, and sharing information for those of you in the North Portland community.
- OSU Extension Services: Check out their site for canning classes, expert advice, and helpful information.
- Pick Your Own: Tutorial on How to Can Cherries using the Hot Pack Method
Looking for an inexpensive, yet reliable cherry pitter? Amazon has the OXO Good Grips Cherry Pitter in stock and ready to ship! It has amazing reviews and people especially like the splatter guard attachment! If you’re looking for something a little more robust, check out the Mrs. Anderson’s Baking Deluxe Cherry and Olive Pitter with Locking Handle. Thanks to Rose for the suggestion!
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