Whole Cherry Preserves
- 2 pounds ripe sweet cherries such as Bing or Lambert
- 3 1/2 cups granulated sugar
- 2 cups water
- 1 star anise
- 2 tablespoons honey
Note: Cherries are naturally low in pectin; in order for them to gel when cooked with only sugar or honey, they must be simmered long and slow over very low heat. But it's an exquisite recipe, worthy of your time and money. During cooking, the cherries become profoundly sweet and chewy, and every spoonful tastes like fruit and sun reduced to a single flavor.
Discard any blemished cherries. Remove and discard the stems from the cherries. Remove the pits. With some varieties, this can be done by simply squeezing the fruit until the pit pops out, leaving the cherry whole. However, other varieties have more tenacious pits and require the use of a cherry pitter. Another method is to slit the cherry open with a knife and pick out the pit. Set the pitted cherries aside.
Put the sugar and water in a large, heavy-bottomed, non-reactive pot. Let stand, stirring occasionally, until the sugar dissolves, 5 or 10 minutes. Add the star anise and simmer over low heat, stirring from time to time, for 15 minutes. Remove the star anise and stir in the pitted cherries and the honey. Raise the heat and bring to a boil. Then again reduce the heat to low and simmer for about 1 3/4 hours, increasing the heat to medium-low after about 1 1/2 hours. Be careful the preserves do not scorch.
Meanwhile, wash 8 half-pint or 4 pint jars. Keep hot until needed. Prepare lids as manufacturer directs.
After the first 45 minutes of cooking the preserves, begin to test for the gel point with your thermometer. Take off the heat when the thermometer reads 220 degrees at sea level to 1,000 feet (218 degrees at 1,000 feet; 216 degrees at 2,000 feet; 214 degrees at 3,000 feet; 212 degrees at 4,000 feet; 211 degrees at 5,000 feet; 209 degrees at 6,000 feet; 207 degrees at 7,000 feet; 205 degrees at 8,000 feet).
Ladle the hot preserves into 1 hot jar at a time, leaving 1/4-inch head space. Wipe jar rim with a clean, damp cloth. Attach lid. Fill and close remaining jars. Process pints or half pints in a boiling-water canner for 10 minutes (15 minutes at 1,000 to 6,000 feet; 20 minutes above 6,000 feet).
This recipe yields about 4 pints.