I've never been really big into jams and jellies. Too gooey. Now I love preserves. But a lot of recipes still want you to throw in pectin. I've got nothing against adding pectin as a rule, it's just that I feel it's unnecessary for the small batches that I make. I like to use stewed fruit as an alternative so I can use it as a topping on other deserts as well.
I found a really nice article on Why? Jams, Jellies and Pectin. It does a really nice job explaining about pectin.
SM is big into bagels and toast in the mornings and since he's Mr Buffet he's always on the lookout for different jams and jellies. This past winter, (I kid you not), I must have had at least 6-8 different kinds of toppings in the fridge.
This year I resolved to make small batches of "stewed fruit. I've asked SM to watch the fruit at the farmers market and let me know what he'd like as a topping. So far this year I've made strawberry and peach. While both were a hit...we both noticed that the peach came out really sweet.
Now I use No Pectin Jam recipes from off the Internet. I'm always amazed at how much sugar they want you to use. I started to follow the recipe on the strawberry, but cut back the sugar and lemon by half, and I still think it had too much of a lemon aftertaste. (SM says it's fine).
On the peach, I cut back on both the lemon and the sugar even more and while it didn't have that lemon taste, ewww weee was it sweet! Note to self, cooked peaches sweeten up, Wow!
Today I saw that the local market was advertising cherries for $2.99 a pound which was a dollar less than at Sams Club. So I went and taste-tested...(I know, a lot of people hate seeing that at the market)...and I bought 5 pounds. They were California Organic Cherries to boot. Thank you California!
(*Conversation with Bambi at the market: Bambi: "Whatcha gonna do with that many cherries?" Me "I turn 'em into preserves." Bambi "Don't they have seeds in 'em?" Me "Yeah, pits...But you just take them out." Bambi "Huh. You gonna eat any fresh?" Me "Sure. But most of 'em I'll cook down.")
I kept 1 pound back for fresh eating and (as SM was sampling), I pitted 4 pounds of cherries, (my cuticles look like hell) and threw them in my heavy stock pot along with just 1/2 cup of sugar (They recommend 4 cups of sugar) and a little bit of lemon.
I brought it up to a rolling boil and turning the heat down just a bit, I kept it at a boil for about 20-25 minutes. You've got to stir it more as it cooks down.
Toss a plate into the freezer. (You use that to check for the "gel" so you don't overcook it.) You can tell when you're getting close when you make a pass with your stir, you see the bottom of the pan and the juice doesn't run back into the pass very quickly. I take it off the heat, (but keeping the heat on in case it needs to cook more) and put a plop on the plate and stick it back into the freezer for about a minute.
Pull it out and swipe your finger through it. If the swipe stays, it's gelled. If not, back on the heat for another minute or two and repeat the process.
This looks good.
It'll still seem a bit loose but it thickens up as it cools. I didn't have any pint jars, so I boiled up a quart jar and plopped the fruit in that and sealed it.
(*I didn't do a water bath as this will stay in the fridge to be eaten over the summer months. I'd process it if it was going on the shelf of course.)
4 pounds of cherries came down to a little over a quart of stewed fruit. The sweetness was just right at a 1/2 a cup of sugar.
The price tag for a quart of cherries? 12 bucks. Perhaps a little indulgent but aren't cherries a special treat anyway? That's why they're always on top of cheesecake.