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Life Is a Bowl of Sour Cherries

Life is a Bowl of Sour Cherries

To preserve Cherries.

Take two pounds of cherries, one pound and a half of sugar, half a pint of fair water, melt some sugar in it; when it is melted, put in your other sugar and your cherries; then boil them softly, till all the sugar be melted; then boil them fast, and skim them; take them off two and three times and shake them, and put them on again, and let them boil fast; and when they are of good colour, and the sirrup will stand, they are boiled enough. 

American Cookery
“The First American cookbook,”
Amelia Simmons

Modern Version

2 pounds sour cherries, pitted (try to retain shape but don’t drive yourself crazy)
1/2 cup water
1 cup sugar (more or less according to sweetness of your fruit, and your own personal taste)

1.  Pit the cherries.  It will take you at least a half hour.  So relax and enjoy.
2.  Put the water in the pot over medium high heat.  Add sugar and stir until it melts.
3.  Add the cherries.  Bring up to a boil then immediately turn the fire down to medium and let cook on low to medium heat, until you have a syrup and the cherries are soft but not mushy.  Test and correct sugar as needed. 


I don’t know how I got by all my life without sour cherries.  But it wasn’t until last month that I had my first taste.  My friends Lou and Nancy turned me on to them, and now it’s going to be forever love. 

I’m not talking about Nancy of Jellypress, but Nancy the owner of Orbis—one of the best restaurants around. Nancy is the kind of chef who loves to go pick her own fruit and catch her own fish on her days off.  Since Lou (yes ravioli Lou) is retired and has time, they’d been picking cherries—up on a ladder and everything--at a friend’s tree.  Well all this takes place a couple of weeks ago when we had a simple lunch of Lou’s homemade tagliatelle (made with a duck egg or a goose egg—something crazy but I can’t remember what) and Nancy’s beautiful Bolognese sauce.


Then, she brought out the cherries on ice cream and I was a goner. 

Two days later, Nancy called me to say she’s been cherry picking again.  Did I want some?  Of course I did….  And so would you. 

Do whatever you can to find sweet and sour cherries.  If you live Northward, there’s still time.  I got these at the farmer’s market a few days ago. Then I saw some in Whole Foods tonight.  Find some today if you can. 

When I called other Nancy—yes our very own Jellypress Nancy—to share my feelings about this fruit, I wasn’t the least surprised to find out that she was already a member of the sour cherry club.  In fact, already painted put them on her counter—that finite midlife horizon of hers.  When I saw these paintings I thought, oh my gosh, well really isn’t everything in that painting—just everything?


Okay, well, almost everything.  The ice cream isn’t there.  So make sure you go get that yourself.


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I picked sour cherries a few weeks ago, and pitted them, but they produced a LOT of juice.  I wasn’t sure how to reconcile that with any of the jelly or pie recipes I found.  I don’t want to throw out the good juice, but most recipes recommend draining.  So I froze the whole mess (a form of food preservation procrastination).

Your sauce recipe is attractive - the 200 years of testing works for me. I am thinking not only of ice cream, or of drizzling it on pound cake, but of pork BBQ sauce with a cherry base.

Might the juice work in my favor?  Could I let it substitute for the water, or still add water? 

If I can this like jelly, how long do you think I might process it in a water bath - 10 minutes, 15? I am a canning novice with only strawberry and apricot preserves under my belt.

    – Matriarchy (July 18 2008 at 10:09)


Thanks so much for your post! You have a very interesting blog yourself. 

You ask an interesting question about the recipe and extra juice.  I found another recipe (by Mary Randolph in “The virginia housewife,” an early 19th century book) in which you are told to use the juice of the cherries instead of water.

I think that the great thing about working with old recipes is that you see how unspecific they are.  That’s because there is an implicit understanding that the cook needs to use judgement.  If I were you, I’d just put them on the stove and add sugar and cook.  if there’s not enough water, add more.  If there’s too much, let it slowly simmer away. 

On your question about canning I can’t help you--because I am not a canner.  I either freeze or eat everything right away.  I’ll look around though and if I find info I’ll let you know.  Meanwhile, if any others out there have an answer please chime in.


    –  (July 20 2008 at 8:53)

As kid, I used to climb up my neighbor’s tree and eat sour cherries until a normal person would be sick! My Grandmother (Nana DeWalt) had a very simple recipe for them: Cherry Pudding. It’s really like a cake. I got it a few years ago from my mother, and since there was no egg in it, I thought surely a mistake in transcribing(I am not any expert in the baking field. She reassured me it wasnt.)Just “sweet” milk, flour, sugar, baking powder, and of course, cherries. It is to be served warm, with milk, and it’s worth every cent of the $4/pt. at the farmer’s market. I’m just making up for all those freebies I devoured in Kathy Mailey’s backyard!

    – Sharon Watts (July 20 2008 at 8:33)

You make a good point, Laura.  What’s the worst that can happen - I get more intense sauce?  All the better!

Canning is “scary” cooking because all the experts are constantly reminding you that you can poison your whole family.  I think I will just freeze the cherry sauce, and worry about canning a future batch when I have more canning experience.

I can’t wait for next year’s cherry season to roll around again.  We are already on to blueberries and apricots where I live.

    – Matriarchy (July 22 2008 at 8:54)


send us that recipe!  it sounds great.


    –  (July 22 2008 at 10:48)

I goofed in the memory dept--it DOES call for an egg. Maybe I thought it should have some butter or oil in it...at any rate--something seemed very un-
“Silver Palate"-like about the recipe on viewing it some 30 years later. But here it is, and Enjoy!:

Nana DeWalt’s Cherry Pudding:
1/2 C. sugar
1 egg
2 C. flour
2 tsp.baking powder
1 c. sweet milk (I dont know what this is, so I just use regular, or buttermilk might work)
1 qt.sour cherries

Grease pan & lightly flour (8X8 or 9X9)
Mix sugar & egg
Add dry ingredients alternately w/milk
Lightly flour cherries and add to batter (all hand-mixed)
Bake at 350 for 1 hour
Serve warm with milk.

    – Sharon (July 22 2008 at 11:03)

Oh how I love sour cherries.  I like to make “cherry bounce” - sugar & sour cherries in vodka.  Drink the liquid, serve the cherries on ice cream.  Yum.

    – magpie (August 26 2008 at 4:44)

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