…we wish you a cherry Christmas and a happy new year!
From as far back as my autocherrygraphical memory extends, this luscious red stone fruit has always been a feature of our adventful Christmas.
Growing up in the fruit-salad bowl of Australia, we really were spoilt for sweet, pitted choice. All summer, loaded sky high into Dad’s iron-aged wagon, apricots, peaches, nectarines (apples, pears and oranges…also available on tree) arrived daily to our farm – to supplement the regular cattle fodder during the drought period – as local growers rid themselves of the not-good-enough-for-the-cannery waste. However, despite our plethora of choice, nothing charmed our fructose senses more than that single, out of growing zone, delivery of roadside cherries that mum would collect from the “Cherries – One Day Only” stand on her way home from the weekly grocery run.
Like a swaddled babe in arms, Mum would furtively carry the burgeoning box through the glass doors and place it in the core of the kitchen table. Before she had time to say “some need to make it to the Christmas dessert table” my brothers and I had loaded handfuls of the red, bauble like fruit into our salivating gobs in an effort to find out who would be the annual most-cherries-in-the-mouth winner. During shopping unpacking intervals (when mum was buried shelf deep in the kitchen larder) our cre-eative competitive games would reach new heights: the great mouth catching challenge. Whilst many a cherry laid down it’s life in pursuit of aerial victory, no food was wasted during these experiments…and the red roofed tattoos (probably still present today) serve to remind residents of those infamous crops that selflessly laid down their lives to serve our edacious tummies.
This year, breaking from the roadside pick-up tradition, we took our festive-fruit appetites to the pit of Young to attend the National Cherry Festival. Shortly after arriving in this modest but bustling country town, we piled onto a bus and headed west to a family owned orchard for our much awaited hand-picking opportunity. Thirty seven minutes and five kilograms of cherries later and K1 and K2 were ready to give the cold shoulder to the blistering hot sun and retreat to the shearing shed for a lavish serve of the farm made cherry pie and icecream.
As for the largess of spoils…well let’s just say there was plenty of Cherry Paste for our friends and relatives to enjoy with their next bout of cheese platter merriment.
Cherry Paste (makes…plenty to share with those cherryished loved ones)
2 kg cherries (pits included)
½ c water
200 g apple skins (collected from the fruit of last weeks apple crumble then frozen)
white sugar (approximately 1.5 kg)
Stem the cherries (pit them now if you prefer – I leave them in to take advantage of the additional pectin) then throw them into a large, heavy based pot with the water. Add the apple skins wrapped in a muslin cloth.
On a low heat, bring the fruit to the boil and simmer for 30 – 45 mins or until the fruit is soft. In the meantime, place a small ceramic plate into the freezer. This will be used to test whether the paste is set during cooking. Squeeze the apples skins in the muslin cloth to release the last of the pectin liquid into the fruit (discard the apple skins into the compost caddey). Pour the fruit into a bowl and leave till cool enough to handle. Remove the pits. Weigh the quantity of fruit (sans pits). Return the fruit to the pot. Add an equal mass of sugar.
Slowly bring the cherry paste mix to the boil ensuring that the sugar is dissolved before reaching boiling point. Simmer vigorously for 15 minutes removing any accumulating froth with a slotted spoon. Test whether the paste is set by dropping ¼ tsp of the mix onto the cold plate. It should wrinkle when pushed with your finger. If not set, continue to boil for another 5 minutes and test again.
Spoon the paste into sterilised jars (see below). Dollop a generous spoonful onto some fruit and nut bread and serve to your guests on Christmas day or wrap and gift to your cherryished friends.
Sterilising jars: I have been making preserves for years now and after trying many cumbersome methods of jar sterilisation, I have settled on the following (that…to the best of my knowledge…has not botulised any recipient yet): wash jars and lids in hot soapy water ensuring that a bottle brush is used to clean the inside. Dip jars and lids into a sink of hot water (to wash off soap suds) and then drain upside down on a tea towel. Place jars and lids (open side facing up) onto trays and leave to dry completely in an oven set at 100 – 120 degrees celcius.