Cherishing the chore of (sour) cherry jam

Sour cherry jam

There are some who shirk hard labor, thinking it never leads to any reward. Some embrace whatever physical challenge is placed before them, knowing their efforts will lead to what is best in life. While Crom knows Gourmandistanis are not opposed to labor-saving devices, we also recognize that sometimes you have to put in the work. That is why Saturday saw Steve sitting at the kitchen table for three straight hours, pitting cherry after cherry after cherry until his hands were stained black with juice. After all, pitted cherries are the first step toward cherry jam. The second step, at least for Steve, was a nice long nap.

Sour cherries

Taking possession of the pile of pitted sour cherries, Michelle was determined to produce a jam she would eat. Not happy with the last couple of years’ too-thick versions (though Steve certainly enjoyed them through the winters), she scoured her sources to find out if there was something she was missing. This recipe, adapted from Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen (who couldn’t love a cookbook with a forward by the great Lee Smith?), resulted in five small jars of delightfully syrupy sour cherry jam. It’s not a lot, but it is delicious—and in Steve’s opinion, worth every single plunge of the pitter.

Yogurt and sour cherry jam

Breakfast of yogurt and jam.
You’d think Steve would tire of it, but he never does.


  • Servings: makes 5 half-pint jars
  • Print

(adapted from Sara Foster’s Southern Kitchen)

  • 7 c. pitted sour cherries
  • 4 c. sugar
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and grated
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Pinch of kosher salt

Place all ingredients in a large pot. Stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and cook at a low boil, stirring occasionally, until mixture sets. This should be at around 220° F, but it may require a slightly higher temperature. Remove from heat and let cool. Pour the jam into sterilized jars and (if you want) process in a hot water bath, or (as we do) simply freeze.


  1. I am a big fan of sour cherry ANYTHING and can’t wait for the season to begin. I’ve even driven to the other side of Lake Michigan just to take advantage of the harvest. So, there’s no need for you to explain why you’d spend 3 hours pitting cherries. Had I lived nearby, I would have joined you. 🙂

    • Oh, I know. I just love them! They are so scarce here. How lucky you are to be near Michigan. I am dying to try a puff pastry turnover, but Steve tags them all for jam.

    • Terrific! It really was the jam I’ve been searching for. My previous attempts ended up a little too thick. And there are so few sour cherries here every year, that was really frustrating.

  2. We love sour cherries, but they only make a rare appearances here – people in the know call one another after a sighting to spread the word. I first encountered them in Provence, where I had them pickled. I bet this jam is killer. Ken

    • Would be interested to know if you have them, Angelica. You’re in Australia, right? The season is quite fleeting here. They’re just available in early summer and everyone has to rush before the birds eat them!

  3. rrwriter

    The wonders of sour cherries cannot be overstated. They are my favorite fruit. No ripe ones here, yet. And I have had exactly the same problem each of the last two years when trying to make homemade jams of any kind: too thick. I don’t think the temperature system works well. And I didn’t learn Mother’s skill for just knowing when a concoction was done. Nice to have a proven recipe!

    • Indeed, Rona! It’s so frustrating to get such a few fabulous cherries and have the jam turn out too thick. My previous attempts could have stood up like a Jello mold. Ugh. Do try this one when your cherries come in. It turned out wonderfully.

    • Well, I was certainly thinking of you, Daisy, when I came across the recipe using apple. The irony, though, is that even with whatever pectin the apple had (apparently not much) this jam was much runnier than my prior efforts with nothing but cherries and sugar. Go figure.

      • Jam is tricky! I think the only thing that consistently sets for me are raspberries.

        And apricots. I wonder if chopping up an apricot and tossing it into the jam would do the trick too . . .

  4. Sour cherries are all the rage here in Australia at the moment but it seems that we can’t get them unless they are dried – can you eat them fresh or are they sour as the name suggests? Apparently they are really good for you….

  5. I can vouch for their sourness, having sampled a few today. I made the jam today with sour cherries from the farmers’ market here in CT, and it tastes great! Yum. Thanks, Michelle and Steve. Pitting the cherries is kind of meditative, don’t you think?

  6. Marsha

    Northern Michigan cherries are a bit smaller this year but sweeter….even the sours. They are just little jewels waiting to be made into something delightful….like your jam recipe here. I am going to make it this week. I corral my husband into pitting as well and he knows at the end of the chore will be some delightful cherry treats. Have you all tried using a plastic straw to pit the sours? It is so easy…..just stick the end of the straw into where the stem was attached and push the pit on through. Voila! Thank you:-)

    • So lucky!! We went to Michigan late last summer and I spent much of the time buying cherries and making jam to bring home. We’re not going to be able to go this year and have been talking all week about how on earth we’re going to make it through winter without lots of cherry jam! (I think I made 2 or 3 little jars with sour cherries earlier this summer. Small consolation.)

  7. We have a sour cherry orchard in Canada and make a lot of jam, using only 2 ingredients: cherries and sugar. Sour cherries have a lot of acid and pectin and need only heat and time to make them gel into jam. No need for apples or lemon juice. We prefer the pure taste of cherries.

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