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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Molasses Popcorn Balls

Sometimes every rule needs an exception.

A basic "rule" for this blog is to never post a recipe that I haven't tested--very recently--at least once, if not more. I have also been trying to include photos on every entry, even if my camera skills are pretty basic.

This entry, however, is going to be an exception. The recipe below is one I haven't made in years and don't plan to try for awhile more, so it's not tested, and won't have photos to show results.

Still, because it's been in the family for a long time, I thought I'd put it out here and hope some of you might try it and add a photo of your efforts in the comments below.

Why now? A Facebook post about popcorn balls made with light corn syrup reminded me of Mom's better, in my opinion, recipe, and a niece responded, asking if I had Mom's recipe. It didn't take long to find the yellowed and battered Molasses Popcorn Balls card, in her own handwriting.

As I recall, the "season" for popcorn balls started around Halloween. If she hadn't made homemade doughnuts to give out for trick or treat, there were likely to be popcorn balls--back in the days when homemade treats were far more common than any wrapped candy from a store.

There were other times when we made these too, usually on a cold winter evening.  Those were the times when we sat together as a family, playing some games or listening to a radio program (we were among the last people I knew to get a television). Dad had a terrific sweet tooth, and so he would often say, I'll crack some nuts if you (Mom and us kids) want to make fudge--or divinity. If we didn't have any more of the hickory nuts we'd gathered in the fall, he might instead bring up some apples from the basement and peel a few, using his pocket knife to make a spiral of peeling we'd grab before it fell on the floor.

And sometimes, to go with those apples, Mom would bring out the popcorn popper and make popcorn balls. After Halloween, these were a rare treat because they are, admitedly, pretty messy to make, but the deep molasses fragrance after the smell of popping corn could warm up even the coldesst, dreariest evening.

With all these memories stirred, and Halloween around the corner, it seems like a good time to pull out this "heritage recipe" and maybe have a family night making these together. For total authenticity, find an old radio program to download and listen to while you are working.

Following is, first, Mom's original recipe, one that does not include any idea of how much popcorn to use, other than knowing that, in the end, you should have 12 balls. Hers were usually the size of a baseball after packing together, if that helps any.

If you look closely, you'll see my own notes and adaptations, dated May/68--so you know the card is OLD! I've included those changes following the transcription of Mom's original below. Finally, there are the comments Mom had also included on the back.

These popcorn balls were often sticky, but they were full of flavor and very much like rich caramel corn--or like old-fashioned Cracker Jack, without the peanuts. We would sometimes butter our fingers or even grab up the sticky popcorn with pieces of waxed paper protecting our hand as we molded them into shape.

A couple of notes:

As noted above, there is no measurement for popcorn anywhere on the card, but, based on the volume of syrup, it probably was a lot. She used a saucepan about the size of those stove-top poppers you see in the stores, and I am going to guess she made at least two batches for this recipe.

I'd suggest popping a lot more corn than you need, put some (8 cups or so?) in a big bowl and begin pouring the syrup over it. If you need to add more corn, you can just toss some in as you stir, until the mixture seems just about "right." And if you end up with too much corn to make the balls stick, then you have caramel corn. If you don't have enough popped corn, well then, you have some very, very sweet, very, very sticky popcorn balls that may need to be eaten with a spoon--or at least have popsicle sticks stuck in the center to keep your fingers relatively unstuck!

Use a bigger pan than you might think you need, and be prepared: when you add the soda, the mixture will bubble up vehemently.

You do need to be careful not to handle the mixture when it is too hot--you can burn yourself pretty easily if you do. At the same time, waiting too long for the mixture to cool makes it almost impossible to get the balls to come together. (Maybe that is why my variation is for caramel corn instead of popcorn balls!)

Molasses Popcorn Balls
1 3/4 c light molasses
2 c sugar
2/3 c water
2 t vinegar

Cook to hard ball stage (250 degrees).
Remove from heat.
Stir in 1/2 t soda - mixing thoroly.
Pour over corn, stirrig up from bottom of dish so all corn is covered. Shape into balls.
Makes 12 balls. 

 good w/variations May/68

My changes to the popcorn balls recipe were somewhat minimal:

1/2 c. light molasses--but I would have used "dark" or regular molasses, since I never had light molasses in the cupboard
3 c sugar
Continue with Mom's original recipe.

OR the caramel corn! 

1/2 c white syrup (this would mean light corn syrup)
3 c brown sugar
1/2 c water
2 t. vinegar
1 T butter
add 1 T salt to this mixture before cooking. 
Cook (with an arrow pointing to the 250 degrees)
Another arrow confirms that 1/2 t soda should be added just with the popcorn bals.

Though my notes on the card don't have much more explanation than Mom's, I remember laying  waxed paper on a cookie sheet and then spreading the caramel corn out on that to dry. 

(I will be frank here: My sister Merry has a much easier and better oven caramel corn recipe that I will probably be trying sometime in the next few weeks. I plan to post that soon, so you can compare and make up your own mind about which is better.)

And the notes on the back

As with many of Mom's recipe cards, there were little notations and extras on the back of the card. This one was no exception. Here is, verbatim, what she had added.

A quickie:
   Melt 1/2 lb light caramel candy with 2 T water - in top of double boileer. Stir until smooth and pour over 2 qts salted popcorn. Spread on buttered cookie sheet. Cool, break apart.

And one more, final, final, note for our family:

If you notice on the card, and on my transcription, Mom's instructions for adding the soda were to stir it in "-mixing thoroly."

Mom was a stickler for correct spelling, but she also spelled a few words in a very unique way, "tho", "thoro", and "thoroly" the main ones I ever noticed. She explained that Grandpa Brereton had been a great believer in the University of Chicago "simplified spelling" movement and had taught her some of these "simplified" words. I just checked and there is a lot of information on this out on the internet, much of it behind paywalls. Still, the Wikipedia article seems pretty accurate, so you might want to check this out:

Saturday, October 15, 2016

Apple Brownies

A kitchen well supplied with apples. A request for cookies for a community event. Not a lot of time.

What better combination of ingredients to try out some apple bar cookies. Why specifically bar cookies?  Almost every bar cookie recipe is quicker to make than any other kind. Mix up the batter, pour it in the pan, and bake. No trying to get lots of little blobs of batter formed in even, nice round shapes, let alone considering the effort involved with rolled out cookies.

A little riffling through my recipe files and cookbooks and more searching on the internet revealed nothing quite like what I had in mind, so I played with a couple of very old recipes and came up with these rich tasting and easy brownie-like cookies. 

The final recipe is large, in part because of the current request for bar cookies, and I have included the amounts needed for half a batch at the end of this post. However, I strongly suggest you consider the full recipe. You have all the ingredients out anyway, so the only thing that really takes extra time is dicing two cups of apples instead of just one. Any extra bars can be frozen for later use and should keep well if tightly covered--though I haven't been able to test that. Every batch I've now made has been finished too quickly to know.

As usual, I did not peel the apples for this recipe. Unless you have a variety with a very tough skin, keeping the peeling on adds flavor and fiber and also yields more fruit per apple. And, of course, it takes less time to prepare the apples too.

How to top them? These really need absolutely nothing to add to the flavor and appearance.  As you can see from the photos, these will develop that rather crinkly, slightly crisp but also chewy brownie top, perfect without anything added.

If you really want to gild the lily, however, serving these warm from the oven with a scoop of vanilla ice cream will make you forget about ever again making an apple pie!

Apple Brownies

1/2 c butter
1/2 c oil
1 c sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
2 eggs
1 t vanilla
2 c flour
1 t baking powder
1/2 t soda
2 1/2 t pumpkin pie spice (see NOTE)
2 c chopped apples (pack quite firmly in measuring cup)
1 c chopped walnuts

1.  Chop the apples and set aside. This can be done in a food processor or manually.

2.  Beat together the butter, oil, sugars, eggs, and vanilla.

3.  Sift together the flour, baking powder, soda, and pumpkin pie spice, and stir into the egg mixture. The batter will be quite stiff.

4.  When the batter is thoroughly blended, fold in the apples and walnuts and stir just enough to be sure the apples and nuts are evenly distributed.

5.  Turn the mixture into a very well oiled 11 X 13 pan and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. If using a glass pan, set the oven at 325 degrees. Cool in the pan before cutting. Makes about 48 cookies.

NOTE:  You may substitute 1 1/2 cinnamon, 1/2 t ginger,  and 1/2 t nutmeg for the pumpkin pie spice if desired. 

Half Batch Variation

--> 1/4 c butter
1/4 c oil
1/2  c sugar
1/3 c brown sugar
1 egg
1/2 t vanilla
1 c flour
1/2 t baking powder
1/4 t soda
1 1/4 t pumpkin pie spice (see NOTE)
1 c chopped apples (pack quite firmly in measuring cup)
1/2 c chopped walnuts

Proceed with the recipe as above. Bake in a well-oiled 8 X 8 or 9 X 9 inch square pan.

NOTE:  You may substitute 3/4 t cinnamon, 1/4 t ginger,  and 1/4 t nutmeg for the pumpkin pie spice if desired.

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Green Beans and Potatoes

My green bean crop this year has been prodigious. Well maybe I should say, my green bean plants have been prodigious, taking over several sections of my garden. Even the so-called bush beans have put out tendrils stretching across and over rows of gladioli, kohlrabi, and dill. In fact, it wasn't until I ruthlessly pruned the beans--actually, just started yanking out a fe plants at strategic places--that they really started to bear.

And have they been bearing! I planted two rows, each only about 3 or 4 feet long, and now have been picking over a quart of beans every day. Even after sharing much of this bounty with friends and family, finding ways to use so many beans has been a challenge. I don't own a pressure canner so won't can these low-acid vegetables, and my freezer space is limited due to a very healthy raspberry crop again this year. This means green beans are on the menu several times a week, so finding new ways to prepare them helps avoid too much monotony.

Naturally, just nibbling the tiniest of beans straight from the plant is still one of the joys of having a garden, and my grandsons love wandering through the garden, picking green beans along with cherry tomatoes and raspberries, as they go. But there are many more ways to enjoy the beans, and I've include several of these in earlier blog posts.

Lightly steamed with a few fresh herbs and a little salt, green beans go well with pork chops or chicken. Then there is a family favorite, roasted beans, also is a great match for many kinds of meat dishes. You can find that here:

Another variation, with tofu, has worked well when there are vegetarians at the table. Combine this with rice and a light salad for a thoroughly satisfying meal.

Today,  I was looking for something else. Scouring the internet turned up dozens (hundreds?) of green bean and potatoes dishes, so I decided to give the combination a try and came up with a quick dish that would work well for either lunch or dinner.

What makes my version unique, compared to the recipes I did review, is the use of the microwave to speed up the overall preparation. I am not sure why so many people are so resistant to using the microwave for more than just reheating prepared foods. Preparing vegetables in the microwave is very similar to steaming on the stovetop, with nutrients more preserved than the traditional pre-cooking/blanching in recipes like this.

Served with fried eggs and a light salad (or just some carrots as shown in the photo), this makes a complete vegetarian meal at relatively low cost--especially if the beans are fresh from your own garden!

Add a  fried egg with salsa and a few baby carrots, and you have the makings of a balanced, nutritious meal.
Green Beans and Potatoes

10 to 12 oz (about 2 c) fresh green beans; leave whole if small or cut into about 1 inch pieces if the beans are larger
1/4 t garlic powder, to taste
1/4 to 1/2 t Italian seasoning
cannola oil
1/4 small onion, or more to taste, diced
1/4 red or yellow bell pepper, diced (optional)
2 medium or 1 large all purpose potato, scrubbed and thickly sliced
seasoning salt and pepper to taste

1. Wash the beans, remove stem ends, and cut into 1 inch pieces if desired.

2.  Place the prepared beans in a microwave safe bowl. Sprinkle with garlic powder and Italian seasoning and pour a tablespoon or two of water over the beans. Cover lightly and microwave for 3 minutes.

3.  Meanwhile, heat enough canola oil in a large skillet to barely cover the bottom of the pan. When the oil is hot, add the potatoes, onion, and pepper. Spread evenly over the bottom. Continue to cook over medium high heat for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the potatoes are beginning to turn golden and crisp. Sprinkle with salt and pepper and turn. Continue to cook another few minutes.

4.  When both sides of the potatoes are golden, but not completely cooked through, add the beans and any remaining liquid. Stir in gently, cover the pan, and continue to cook another few minutes until the potatoes are just tender.

Serves 2 to 3.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Green Beans and Tofu

Our summer has been one of frequent rains and lots of warmth. Add in pails and pails of compost to build up my garden soil, and I have lavish bean vines that are taking over several of the planting beds that are supposed to be providing peppers and chard and lots of other things too.

I'm not complaining. However, I do have a lot more beans than I had planned, so it is time to find new ways to prepare them.  

A few weeks ago, at a Vietnamese restaurant, I saw green beans and tofu on the menu and decided to try my hand at something similar.

Is the following recipe "authentic" anything? Probably not, but the flavors combine well, and the green beans provide a hardy base, even when they have been picked a little larger than I might have preferred. (Do you know how easily hidden even 8 inch long beans are under those delightful green leaves?)

I didn't have any fresh ginger or unsalted soy sauce in the house, so ground ginger and regular soy sauce would have to do.  If you are serving this over rice (or lo mein noodles), just don't salt that base, and you should be fine. I wouldn't try to reduce the amount of soy sauce, however, because the flavor is really needed here.

Green Beans and Tofu

14 oz. pkg firm tofu
2 T canola oil
1 medium carrot (about 4 oz or 1 cup), sliced--quarter the slices if desired
6 oz green beans, about 2 cups, cut in 1 inch pieces
1/3 medium onion, chopped
2 to 4 T diced green chile, mild or hot to taste
1 T canola oil
 ½ c unsalted chicken or vegetable broth (or water, if you don't have any broth)


2 T brown sugar
1 T cornstarch
1 t ground ginger
2 cloves garlic, minced
¼ c soy sauce

1.  Cut the block of tofu into two thin slices and place on a towel. Cover with another towel and top with a heavy skillet or stack of pans. Press the tofu for at least 15 minutes or up to an hour.

2.  Remove the tofu from the towel and cut into about 1 inch cubes. Heat the 2 tablespoons of oil in a heavy skillet until a bit of water sizzles when dropped in. Add the tofu and brown, stirring often to be sure all sides are browned. When well browned, remove the tofu to a plate.

3.  Add the remaining oil, and heat again until very hot. Add the vegetables and stir, cooking just until beginning to get tender. Gradually add up to ½ cup of broth to keep the vegetables from charring while they are cooking to desired tenderness.

4.  Meanwhile, mix the brown sugar, cornstarch, and ginger in a small bowl and then stir in the soy sauce and minced garlic. Blend well.

5.  When the vegetables are just at the level of doneness you prefer, stir in the tofu and then the sauce. Mix well and continue to simmer for about 5 more minutes to allow the flavors to blend. 

More broth may be added if desired for a more liquid consistency.

Serve over rice or lo mein noodles.

Serves 3 to 4.


If using fresh ginger, grate a tablespoon or so of ginger into the vegetables. 

Other vegetables can be added as desired. Sliced celery, small cauliflowerettes, or sugar peas are all possible additions, depending on what you have available. 

Substitute sliced mushrooms for the carrots. 

Using vegetable broth (or water) results in a fine vegan main dish. 

Thursday, July 28, 2016

No Bake Yogurt Cheesecake

This summer has been one of the warmest we have had in years up here in Minnesota, not the kind of weather that encourages much use of the oven.

Still, there are occasions when a special dessert might be called for. With blueberries having been featured at attractive prices for the past several weeks, I have made my "classic" blueberry pie but  now wanted to try for a light cheesecake-style dessert.

I say "cheesecake-style" because I had neither cream cheese nor sour cream, but I had plenty of yogurt. I don't use brand names often, but I have made the four pound tubs of Mountain High yogurt--plain, low fat, not Greek--from Costco a staple. The price has been stable at $3.99 for years. So that would be the basis for whatever dessert I finally chose.

I also keep unflavored gelatin in the cupboard through the summer because it is a basic ingredient for various fruit sherbets and sorbets that I have made ever since those hot summers in Arizona. That would become the ingredient that would bring the right amount of firmness to the filling.

In the end, the cheesecake came together easily and, if a pre-baked pie shell is available, required no oven time and only a few minutes of microwave heating. Perfect for a hot summer day in the kitchen.

No Bake Yogurt Cheesecake
1 pkg unflavored gelatin
½ c water
2 T orange juice concentrate
1 t almond extract
1/3  c sugar
1 ¼ c yogurt
1 cup blueberries
Blueberry Glaze 
8 inch pre-baked or crumb pie crust

1.  Stir the gelatin into the water, mix well, and allow to sit for about 10 to 15 minutes.  Be sure to use a large enough dish to allow for the boil-over that could happen when the mixture is microwaved.

2.  Microwave the gelatin mixture about 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture is clear, indicating that it is completely dissolved. You may want to stir once in the middle of heating. Allow to cool to room temperature.
3.  When the gelatin is cool, stir in the juice concentrate, sugar, and almond extract. Then add the yogurt and stir until the mixture is completely blened.
4.   Pour the filling into the pie crust, smoothing it well.
5.  Spread the blueberries evenly over the filling.

6.  Prepare the Blueberry Glaze and spread over the blueberries. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

Blueberry Glaze 


1 c blueberries
3/4 c water
 1/2 c sugar
3 T cornstarch
2 t lemon juice

Cook the blueberries and water together for about 4 to 5 minutes, until the blueberries are very soft.
Combine the sugar and cornstarch, stirring together until completely blended.  Gradually add this mixture to the cooked blueberries and continue cooking until the mixture is very thick and clear. Remove from heat and stir in the lemon juice. 

An alternative glaze that includes apples can be found here:

Friday, July 22, 2016

Savory Corn Pudding

One sign that we are well into summer is the appearance of pick up trucks full of fat ears of corn at familiar corners around town. Sweet corn season has arrived!

So we buy the first dozen, grilling them to perfection. Then we buy some more because that first dozen was so good. Now we might just microwave one or two for a quick lunch--husk, cover, and microwave for about 3 minutes for a single ear, maybe 5 or 6 minutes for two. A vegetable stir fry is nice, and some more grilled corn.

And then we realize that we bought more than we really are prepared to eat in the next day or two. Now what do we do with all that extra corn?

We can blanch the corn and freeze it. Out of all the great sites out there with the easy instructions on how to do this, here is one of my favorites:

You can also just cook some extra ears while the grill is hot or while the water is already boiling. Cut the corn off the ears while you are cleaning up and you'll have fresh corn ready for the rest of the week. 

Ready for something like this savory corn pudding. It may not be the traditional corn pudding your family serves every Thanksgiving, but it's a nice creamy summer dish that with the bonus of microwave preparation--no heating up the oven on a sweltering day. 

With the eggs, cheese, and milk, this is a good, vegetarian, main dish; served with a salad and fresh fruit, it's a complete meal. Of course, it also works as a hearty side dish to go along with fried chicken, cole slaw, and watermelon.

It's also great to take to a pot luck, though do remember that it is an egg-based dish. As such, be sure to watch how long it stands out of the oven or refrigerator. 

Savory Microwaved Corn Pudding

1 medium onion, chopped (I prefer red onions for color contrast)
1 medium green pepper, diced
1 T olive butter, bacon fat, or oil
1/4 c yellow corn meal (optional)
2 c fresh, blanched corn or 12 to 16 oz thawed frozen corn--don't drain
3 eggs
1/2 c milk
1 to 1 1/2 c grated mozzarella (or cheddar)
seasoning salt and black pepper to taste (start with about 1 t salt if using oil, 1/2 t salt if using bacon fat)

1.  Saute the onions and peppers in the oil or bacon fat, until the onions are just starting to turn golden. Stir in the corn and corn meal and remove from heat.

2.  In a well-oiled 1 1/2 quart casserole dish, beat the eggs, milk, salt and pepper; add the grated cheese and mix until well blended.
3.  Fold the corn mixture into the eggs and cheese and stir until well blended.
4.  Cover lightly and bake in microwave at medium (power level 6 or 7) about 6 minutes. Remove from microwave and stir, making sure that the center (which is likely still quite liquid) and the edges (starting to firm up) are well mixed.

5.  Return to microwave and continue cooking, uncovered, at medium power for about 4 to 5 more minutes. To test, insert a knife in the center; if there is no batter adhering to the blade when you pull it out, it will be done.
6.  Allow to cool for about 5 minutes before serving. serve with salsa and/or hot sauce if desired.

Serves 4 as a main dish, 5 to 6 as a side.

Some added thoughts:

While I generally use olive oil or canola oil for sauteeing, this dish benefits from the added flavor of either butter or bacon.
I have fresh peppers in my garden right now, so that is what I used. However, you could substitute fresh peppers as hot as you'd like or you could substitute a 4 oz can of diced green chiles for the bell peppers.
The corn meal gives a bit more corn flavor and body. If you prefer a creamier pudding, this can be omitted.

A meteorological note:  Local news sources have been telling us that maybe there is a relationship between some current record breaking warm days and the high percentage of land here in our area given over to corn and soy beans. It's a phenomenon know as "corn sweating" and you can read more about the impact of humidity given off by a field of corn on dew points here:

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

No Pectin Cherry Jam

(Reader alert: This is a blog entry with lots of memories before getting to the recipe. If you are just looking for how to make cherry jam, scroll to the bottom of the post.)

I grew up in the upper Midwest where the climate was too cold for sweet cherries but where "pie cherries"--a kinder name for sour cherries--were common in many back yards. In our area, pies were the main way these were served, and there was even some kind of state level cherry pie contest back in the 50s. I haven't found it yet on the internet, but I remember that a family friend, Mary Stewart, was a finalist (maybe even winner?) for it. Because she had to have a "perfect" pie for the finals, she was baking one about every day, so we had a lot of opportunities to both watch her demonstrate her method and have the fruits of much of her labor. I remember watching in wonder as she deftly lifted the pastry strips and made the most beautiful lattice tops, something I have never been able to duplicate.

Even after our family moved to a home where there was a cherry tree in the orchard, that was never enough to keep our family supplied with all the fruit we loved, for our own pies and just plain "cherry sauce:" sweetened canned cherries served as a simple dessert on brisk winter evenings.

To make sure there were always plenty of quart jars of the bright red fruit on the basement shelves, Mom would buy at least one 30 pound can of frozen Michigan cherries each year. These were a wondeful convenience food, as the shiny copper-colored cans contained pre-sweetened and pitted cherries, ready to be heated, divided among many quart jars, and put in the water bath canner to be preserved for colder days ahead.

There was one year, however, when something went wrong, either in the labeling or at the factory where the cherries were processed. We didn't realize it until sometime in the fall when Mom made the first cherry pie from the batch for friends at one of our usual Sunday dinners.

The pie was as beautiful as all of Mom's pies, but the first person to take a bite (of course, one of the guests) immediately stopped chewing and slowly withdrew not one but two cherry pits from his mouth. Now, it was not at all uncommon to find a very occasional pit in these mechanically pitted cherries, but all of soon became aware that this batch of cherries was completely unpitted. Amidst the ensuing laughter we all enjoyed a very tasty pie as we spit out pits almost like one might eat a seeded watermelon. I have since found some sites online that indicate cooks in some countries deliberately leave the pits in, considering them to provide a richer cherry flavor. I'm not sure about that, but I do know we spent the rest of that season enjoying the cherries as usual, just now knowing what we would encounter as we ate.

Apparently from my youngest days, I was a great lover of cherries, begging, so my parents would tell me, for "just one more bowl full," no matter how many I had already had.  It's no surprise then, that I planted two cherry trees a few years ago after moving back to the Midwest. My kids here in town had already planted trees on both their lots so they were a couple of years ahead of me.

And that is a good thing.

My first cherry crop, prior to squirrel depredation
Last year, when I thought I finally had a large enough harvest to perhaps make one dessert or maybe even a batch of jam, I came home from a weekend out of town to find my tree totally without any fruit. It appeared that it was both birds and squirrels, since birds usually eat the fruit and leave the seeds, and the squirrels were seen nibbling away on whole cherries as well as the leftover seeds. This year, there were quite a few more cherries so I was sure I would have at least some left to enjoy.


In only a couple of days, both trees were pretty well stripped clean, before most of the cherries had even a bit of pink on them, so I hadn't yet gotten netting over them.

Fortunately, my kids were again luxuriating in their own harvests, and last night one of my daughters-in-law picked over 5 pounds of cherries for me. While I did hold the ladder for her a few times, she really did all the work and handed a bulging bag over to me for whatever use I might have for them.

So today I made some delightful cherry jam in little over an hour and a half. No special equipment and only cherries, sugar, and lemon juice. Now I have over a quart and a half of jam to put in pretty little containers to go along with loaves of fresh bread for housewarming, Christmas or hostess gifts. And still enough to spread on toast for a quick breakfast now and then.

Some hints along the way:

I found one site that said you should start out by wearing something red. While that may work, you really need to be sure that you are wearing something that is not at all valuable, since you almost assuredly will get cherry juice someplace on your shirt (and pants and tablecloth and...), and you also most assuredly have great, great difficulty washing any stains out. So be warned; this is not the timy to be a fashionista.

Pitting the cherries:
If you have lots of cherries available to you, you may want to invest in a cherry pitter, but if you are like me, I'd rather not clutter up my shelves with one more single use gadget. My kids' great-grandmother would take an old-fashioned, brand new hairpin (not a bobby pin) and use it to pop out the pits quickly and cleanly. Not having access to hairpins, I soon discovered that a small paper clip can achieve the same results.

It is a little hard to describe, but try this:  holding the paper clip in your right hand (lefties, use your left hand), insert the end without the double loop into a cherry at the place where the stem had been attached. Press the paper clip in far enough to "catch" on the pit and pull gently. The pit will just pop out and into the bowl that  you should of course have waiting. Put the pitless cherry in another bowl and repeat. Once you get a rhythm going, you may be surprised how quickly this goes.

Do it now:
Cherries are much like peaches, apples, and other fruits that brown very quickly after being cut or pitted. To keep the jam as bright as possible, plan to move immediately from the pitting stage to making jam.

Pitting cherries is the kind of activity that is much less tedious and much more fun if done with others. It is a great job for grandparents and kids, especially with the promise of cherry jam over fresh bread at the end of the process!

Not enough cherries?
One of the nice things about not using pectin to make jam is that you can just use the ratios of sugar to fruit and lemon juice and adjust to whatever amount of fruit that you have. However, when I ended up with only about 2 cups of cherries one day. I didn't really want to go through all the steps for so little product. Since my raspberries have started their usual lavish production, I just stretched the jam by combining the two fruits. My variation is below. You could also stretch the cherries with finely chopped apples. Other combinations could also work, but you should be aware that the pectin levels of different fruits vary enough to make the results a little more or less firm. Not to worry: If it's too thin, you have a fine topping for ice cream, pancakes, etc. If it is too thick, you can always warm it with a little added water, apple juice, etc.

Cherry Jam without Pectin

5 pounds sour cherries, about 10 cups pitted
1/4 c lemon juice (for most consistent results, use the reconstituted bottled stuff like ReaLemon)
4 to 5 cups sugar

1.  Put a small glass or china plate in the freezer. Pit the cherries. As you pit the cherries, toss them occasionally with the lemon juice to slow the browning.

2.  If desired, chop the cherries lightly in a processor or just leave them whole. 
3.  Put the cherries in a large pan--since the mixture will boil up, as much as double in height, be sure to use a large enough pan. Stir in the sugar and allow the sugar and cherries to sit for 20 to 30 minutes.
4.  Bring the cherry mixture to a boil over medium to high heat, stirring often to avoid sticking. Continue cooking until the jelling point is reached.

How will I know what that "jelling point" is? Use one or more of the following tests:
  • A candy thermometer should reach 220 degrees for at least 3 to 4 minutes.
  • Put a teaspoon or so of jam on the plate from the freezer. Run your finger down the center of the jam. If it holds its shape and does not run together, the jam is firm enough.
  • Put a little of the jam on the stirring spoon and allow it to run back into the pan. If the jam "sheets" off the spoon--the droplets come together and fall down slowly--it is ready.
5.  Remove the jam from heat and ladle into sterilized jars. If you want to keep the jam on the shelf and out of the refrigerator, process the jam in a water bath canner for 10 minutes for pints or smaller and for 15 minutes for quart jars. Even if you plan to store the jam in the refrigerator, I recommend sterilizing the jars.

6.  This amount of cherries makes about 3 to 4 pints.

Raspberry Cherry Jam

5 c fruit (I used about 3 c raspberries, 2 c cherries)
3 c sugar
2 T lemon juice

Follow the same steps as in the Cherry Jam recipe above. If desired to emphasize the cherry flavor, a teaspoon or so of almond extract can be added when the jam is removed from the heat.