From 1855: Cherry Jam

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Usually, I would tell you a little bit about the history going on around 1855 for this post. But (spoiler alert), I have another 1855 post coming up soon, so I think I might just reflect here for a bit. I hope you don’t mind. My husband and I have lived in Boston for a few months now. We’re originally from Pittsburgh, but we lived in Florida for nearly the last five years. So, coming back to the northeast after all of that time has been like getting to know all of my favorite things all over again.

Nothing beats the smell of the air in the northeast as the seasons change. We moved here in May, and for the first time in five years, I got to experience spring. The trees were just budding as we unpacked, and as the weeks went by, they filled out to a luscious green, their leaves blowing in the wind, waving like the ocean. And, the flowers. They bloom everywhere. Tulips, daisies, roses – nothing but splash after splash of brilliant color. The the air carries that floral scent, cool and bright at the same time. When I closed my eyes, I was standing in the middle of my grandma’s flower garden again. I breathed deep, and I was eight – the world was so simple. Grandma had cookies in the oven.

Now, it’s summer, but the past few days have been cool. It makes me excited for fall – my favorite time of the year. I haven’t seen fall in years, either. Fall is like magic – the colors; the dampness that holds the scents of cooking food, burning fires, and falling leaves; the flavors that define the season – cinnamon and pumpkin and nutmeg. Mmm! And, fall brings on the holidays. It brings school; it brings football season; it brings decorations. It brings Thanksgiving – my favorite! It’s like magic!

I love magic. I’m like a kid about it. That gives me one last thought. I went for a walk the other night. It was chilly; it was raining. The Boston streets were empty, and as I walked under my umbrella, it was just me and the sound of the rain. The streets and sidewalks were soaked, and the lights of the city – the bright lights from the street lamps, the rows of Victorian brownstones, and the layer of church steeples and turrets and even skyscrapers above them were reflected in the streets and the sidewalks. I was walking on ground that had lit up under me. The world was dark, I was alone under my umbrella as the rain pelted down, and I was walking on light. Now, that’s magic.

Thanks for listening to my reflections. Truly. Now, let’s get back to food… and history. So, what are we cooking? Cherry jam from Cook Book published in 1855.

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Homemade jam is so comforting. It’s just fruit cooked down with some sugar, but pretty much no one makes it anymore, so I get really excited when I see it at farmer’s markets and green markets and stuff like that. And, with all my ramblings about magic and holidays and seasons, I thought it was perfect. So, let’s go – into the kitchen to make magic… and history!

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Here are our ingredients: Cherries and brown sugar. That’s it!

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Step 1: Stone the cherries. That means pit them to you and me. I set up a little cherry pitting station on my living room floor in front of the television. Yes, I felt a little bad doing it because the women of 1855 who made this jam didn’t have that luxury. BUT, they probably made a day of it in a group setting where they could talk and entertain themselves… so, it’s really the same thing, just adapted for our much lonelier, less community-oriented, less homemade-jam-making times!

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Step 1.1: To pit the cherries, I just pulled out the stem, then I ran my knife around the cherry letting it be guided by the pit. Then, I set my knife down, twisted the two halves of the cherry apart, and dug the pit out. I ended up with a nice pile of stems and pits to show all the work I did! Note: Keep a wet paper towel nearby. If the cherries splash juice anywhere you don’t want them to, you’ll want to clean that up immediately!

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Step 1.2: I tossed all the pit-less cherry halves in a saucepan as I worked. And, I kept marveling at how beautiful all the fresh cherries looked!

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Step 2: Whew! So, all those cherries are finally pitted. Put them on the stove and add some brown sugar!

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Step 3: Mix the sugar into the cherries as best you can, and turn on the heat. I cooked mine over medium heat, and I stirred every few minutes.

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Step 3.1: After about twenty minutes, my cherries had produced enough juice to come to a boil. That’s what you want! Now, let them cook down and mash them every so often so they can make a nice, thick jam.

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Step 4: After ten more minutes of boiling, my cherries had become jam. Now,  I went for a thin jam. If you boil longer, you’ll get a thicker jam. Go with what you like – just make sure to keep stirring so the jam doesn’t burn.

Note: There are a lot of ways to test to see if your jam has set up. You can dribble the jam onto a frozen surface to see if it gels. You can look at the bubbles to see how they’re bubbling. I just checked to see if it coated a metal spoon. Homemade jam (especially without any pectin in it) won’t be thick like store-bought jam is, but it will coat a spoon, and you should be able to trace a path through it when it’s done. Use your best judgement – it’s not too hard!

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Final step: I let my jam cool, and it thickened even more. Then, I just put it in an air-tight container and stuck it in the fridge – again, another modern luxury unlike what they had in 1855! But, the women of 1855 would have preserved their jam. Fruit was only available at certain times of the year then, so they made large quantities of jam to preserve it in the pantry. Then, they could store it and have it all year!

Of course, this is pretty foreign to us now. Preserving and canning food? Like I said before, no one really does that anymore. My grandma used to do that when I was little, but she doesn’t even do it now. It’s just not necessary, and people don’t want to take the time to do something that isn’t necessary. Times change. I’ve said this before, too, and maybe it’s silly, but it makes me nostalgic for things I’ve never experienced. Everything just seemed to be so simple in the past. Of course, it wasn’t – the people of 1855 had their own problems and surviving from day to day was much more difficult than we could ever imagine. But, thinking about a group of ladies getting together to spend the day making jam has a comforting quality to it, doesn’t it? And, I like comfort. It ties in with that whole magic thing I rambled about…

From 1855: Cherry Jam

  • Servings: Makes 2-3 cups of jam
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 3 lbs. cherries, rinsed, halved, and pitted
  • 3/4 cup brown sugar

Directions

  1. Place the rinsed, halved, and pitted cherries in a saucepan, add the brown sugar, and stir to combine.
  2. Place the saucepan over medium heat. Stir the cherries often so they don’t burn. After about 20 minutes, the cherries should have cooked out enough juice that they have begun to boil. Begin to mash the cherries as they cook.
  3. After about another 10 to 25 minutes (30-45 minutes total cooking time), check the jam for doneness. Dribble a bit on a frozen surface to see if it gels, or just check to see that it coats a metal spoon. The length of time you cook your jam will also determine its thickness. Cook less time for a thinner jam and more time for a thicker jam. Remember, too, that your jam will continue to thicken as it cools.
  4. Remove the jam from the heat, let cool, and store sealed.

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One thought on “From 1855: Cherry Jam

  1. Pingback: From 1855: Cold Slaw | Join, or Pie.

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