Saturday, July 16, 2011

Cherry Grappa Jam

I'd been waiting all winter for the fruits of spring so that I could make something other than marmalade and I really had my sights set on strawberry season. I envisioned a bucolic day of picking at a farm with the girls, but somewhere between diapers and tantrums and tears, it just blew right by. That left me scrambling. Luckily, I caught the tail end of cherry season. After a consultation with the Blue Chair Jam Cookbook, I came up a concoction with grappa, star anise and cherry pit kernels. Cracking cherry pits is about as tedious a task as you can imagine, but Rachel swore it was worth it. And since this is one the best jams I've ever had, I'm not about to start arguing. Cherries macerated in grappa is what they do in Italy so that seems like a good enough excuse to me.

Cherry Grappa Jam
modified from The Blue Chair Jam Cookbook

3 pounds plus 1 pound pitted red cherries, pits reserved
1 3/4 pounds plus 7 ounces white cane sugar
6 ounces strained freshly squeezed lemon juice
2 ounces grappa
2 star anise

approximate yield: five 8-ounce jars

Place the cherry pits on the ground or a heavy, solid counter, between two clean towels and tap them with a hammer until they crack. Carefully remove the tiny almond-like kernel from each pit until you have enough kernels to to make 1 tablespoon coarsely chopped. Discard the shells and remaining pits. Place the chopped kernels and the star anise into a fine-mesh stainless-steel tea infuser with a firm latch and set aside.

Place a saucer with five metal teaspoons in a flat place in your freezer for testing the jam later.

Place your perfectly clean jars and lids in a preheated 250˚ oven.

Combine 3 pounds of the cherries with 1 3/4 pounds of the sugar in a large heatproof mixing bowl. In a glass measuring cup, combine the lemon juice and the grappa and set aside.

Place the remaining 1 pound of cherries and 7 ounces of sugar, along with 2 ounces of water, in an 11- or 12-quart copper preserving pan or wide non-reactive kettle. Cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a heatproof rubber spatula and inching the heat gradually up to medium, until the mixture boils, then cook 7 minutes more, or until the cherries have shriveled and the liquid has become thick and syrupy. Immediately pour the hot cherries into a metal strainer over the bowl with the raw cherries and sugar, pressing down on the cooked fruit and draining until every last drop of liquid goes through. Discard the cooked cherries. Add half the lemon juice/grappa mixture to the uncooked cherry mixture, stir well to combine, and transfer the mixture back to your copper preserving pan. Place the mesh tea infuser into the mixture, pressing down on it to be sure it has submerged.

Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat, gradually increasing the heat to high. Boil rapidly, stirring every minute or two with a heatproof rubber spatula, for 10 to 15 minutes. Monitor the heat closely as you stir; if the jam begins to stick, decrease the heat slightly. Between stirrings, use a stainless steel spoon to skim the foam carefully off the top of the mixture. After 10 to 15 minutes, remove from the heat. Do not stir. Let the mixture rest for a moment, then carefully scrape all the white foam off the top of the mixture and discard. Stir in the remaining lemon juice/grappa mixture. Return the jam to the stove over medium-high heat and continue to cook, stirring frequently. If necessary, gradually lower the heat to prevent scorching.

After 5 more minutes, your jam should be close to ready. To test for doneness, remove the jam from the heat. Do not stir. Carefully transfer a small representative half-spoonful of jam to one of your frozen spoons. Replace the spoon in the freezer for 3 to 4 minutes, then remove and carefully feel the underside of the spoon. It should be neither warm nor cold; if still warm, return to the freezer for a moment. Tilt the spoon vertically to see whether the jam runs; if it is reluctant to run, and if it has thickened to a near-jelly consistency, it is done. If it runs very quickly, cook it another few minutes, stirring, and test again as needed.

When the jam is done, remove the mesh tea infuser and pour into your preheated jam jars. Screw the lids on, not overly tight, and put back into the oven for another 15 minutes to ensure they are completely sterilized.

Remove from the oven and let the jars cool overnight on a steel cooling rack.