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Boozy Cocktail Cherries

Choose your own spirits to add to your preserved sweet cherries!
Servings: 3 Pints
Author: Roseanne Carrara, Smelling Salts Journal

Equipment

  • 3 pint or 6 half-pint mason jars or a mixture thereof, sterilized and warm, with clean rims, and new lids
  • Canning Equipment: Large Canning Pot, Metal Rack, Tongs, Funnel, Ladle
  • Cherry Pitter
  • Heavy Bottomed Non-Reactive Pot and spoon for making syrup

Ingredients

  • 6 cups Fresh Sweet Cherries stemmed and pitted
  • 1 3/4 cups Sugar
  • 3 3/4 cups Water
  • 1/4 cup Lemon Juice [bottled is acceptable]
  • 3/4+ cup Spirits [I used straight Rye for my Maple Rye batch and a 2:1 ratio of Bourbon & Cointreau for my Bourbon Cointreau Cinnamon Stick batch. You might also try Brandy, Gin, Rum, or Vodka, adding a bit of Campari, Nonino, or St. Germain etc at a similar or lower ratio.]
  • 1/4 cup OPTIONAL: Maple Syrup [for Maple Rye Option]
  • 3-6 OPTIONAL: Cinnamon Sticks, 1 per jar [For Bourbon Cointreau Cinnamon Stick Option. You might also try star anise or cloves, but I would not recommend placing the anise in the jars after boiling with the sugar.]

Instructions

  • Sterilize the mason jars and warm the lids. [I like to keep my sterilized jars in a slightly warm oven so that when they are filled with the hot liquid, they do not suffer shock.]
  • Clean, stem and pit the cherries.
  • In a pot over medium heat, combine the sugar, water, lemon juice, and, if using, the maple syrup and/or cinnamon sticks.
  • Stir this mixture hard until the sugar dissolves and then bring up to a gentle boil.
  • If using, transfer the cinnamon sticks to the warm jars.
  • OPTIONAL STEP [COOKED CHERRIES]: If you don't want to risk the cherries shrinking during the canning process, add the cherries to the pot, bring to a simmer and simmer on low for 5-7 minutes before proceeding. THIS IS NOW MY PREFERRED METHOD [AS OF SUMMER 2021].
  • Pack the cherries into the jars fairly firmly but without crushing, leaving about 3/4 in headspace in the top. [Use a slotted spoon if you've cooked the cherries before canning.]
  • Add 1/8 to a 1/4 cup spirits to each pint jar, 1/16 to 1/8 cup to each half-pint jar, or 1 tbs to each quarter-pint jar.
  • Top the jars with your sugar-syrup, leaving about 1/2 inch headspace at the top of each jar. [This is more headspace than when canning jams!]
  • At this point, if you don't want to properly can your cherries in a boiling water bath, allow them to sit on a counter and cool. Then, refrigerate for two weeks before opening. Consume within 6-8 weeks after opening.
  • Seal the jars with lids and rims and process in the boiling water bath for 25 minutes.
  • Take the top off of the canning bath, turn off the heat, and leave the jars to sit in the canner for 5 more minutes.
  • Remove the jars upright from the canner, place on wire racks or a protected surface, and allow to cool completely. Check for a good seal on the lid. Gently remove screw caps. Wipe and dry the jars and replace the rims [not too tightly.]
  • Label and store in a cool dark place. Leave the jars for at least 2 weeks before sampling. Properly canned, they will last for 1-2 years on the shelf before opening. Once opened, store in the refrigerator.
  • TROUBLE SHOOTING:
    Within 24 hours:
    Jars which did not seal may topped up with additional cherries and hot syrup to the proper headspace, topped with fresh warm lids, and reprocessed, warm, for 15 minutes plus the additional 5 minute cool.
    Jars in which cherries have settled too much to be visually appealing or to make a substantial gift [3/4 of the jar for 1/2 pint or 2/3 jar for 1 pint] may be warmed in their syrup, placed in smaller jars, or combined into larger jars, topped with additional fresh hot syrup to reach the required headspace, topped with fresh lids, and reprocessed for 15 minutes plus a 5 minute cool.
    If you do not wish to reprocess and risk a slightly softer cocktail cherry: place jars in the refrigerator and allow flavours to mingle for approximately 2 weeks. Once open consume within 6-8 weeks.

Notes

You may have syrup left over after filling your jars. Enjoy it in a glass of seltzer or a mixed drink! 
The liquid in the jars will be boiling and bubbly once removed from the canner. As the jars cool, the bubbles should dissipate. 
You may see a bit of settling in one or many jars. This is normal. As long as you provided the right amount of headspace at the outset of canning, and as long as the cans have sealed properly, you should be fine! Fruit above the liquid mark may darken slightly. However, this should have no effect on the taste or consistency. You may wish to consume the settled jars first.  I neither refrigerate-and-use-promptly nor do I reprocess properly sealed jars in which the fruit has settled unless it has settled more than 3/4  of the jar [1/2 pint] or 2/3 of the jar [pint].  A good rule of thumb with canning is to err on the side of caution. Put that jar in the fridge and use it first, give it as a gift to friends and tell them to do the same, or combine and reprocess.
Within 24 hours of canning, if the fruit has settled more than desired, you may re-can in smaller jars or combine cherries in jars, re-seal, and re-process. You may have to make a bit more hot syrup to top the cherries properly to reach the required headspace. But that's easily done. When re-canning, warm the fruit in its syrup, place in warm sterilized jars with new warm lids. Reprocess for 15-20 minutes + 5 minute cool.  Your cherries may be slightly mushier after a second bath. But I've done this with some success, and none the wiser.
In my limited experience as a home cook, organic cherries have shrunk less than non. So it may be worth a splurge, here, if you're gifting.
This recipe follows the general instructions in the Bernadin guide to canning cherries in syrup