Friday, September 4, 2009

Super Easy Preserving: Pickled Cherries

Oh, who am I kidding? I'm glad that I posted Hot Spicy Candy, but I just can't stop thinking about these cherries... The County Fair Cookbook doesn't specifically link them to a county fair (ooo, the scandal!), but the nearest one it does talk about is the Long Island Fair in Old Bethpage, New York. According to the Fair's website, the fair's got a good blend of history and activities:
The Long Island Fair is the oldest continuously operated fair in the country having begun in 1842, first in farmers’ fields or empty lots, then in Mineola at the present site of the County Court House complex, and finally moving to Old Bethpage Village in 1970 (History). The Fair features rides, amusements, entertainment for young and old, and agricultural and horticultural competition for cash prizes common to Long Island a century ago and is the only New York State sanctioned agricultural and horticultural fair for Long Island. Prize competition is open to anyone not only in vegetables, fruits and flowers but also for baking, crafts, hobbies and agricultural skills – cross cut sawing and corn husking.
Rock on, Long Island agriculture! The fair runs for eight days in mid-October, so you've got time to plan your trip up to (or down to, or over to, I suppose) Old Bethpage. Old Bethpage: It's closer to civilization than Smithtown. Okay, so odds are the Chamber of Commerce isn't going to hire me to write their new tagline...and really, you have to go even further out on the island to get to the heritage of the next recipe.

Wickham's Fruit Farm is over 200 acres of farmy goodness next to Peconic Bay in Cutchogue. The Wickham family has been farming those acres for about three hundred years. This feels like a good time to say that the first time I came to the East Coast, I was in a cab in Boston, and said to the cabbie, "Today, I saw things that are older than my state!" The cabbie replied, "Honey, in Boston, there are things older than dirt." That's how I feel about saying one family's been doing anything for 300 years in one spot in this country, especially when that family has a very non-native last name. Anyway. The Wickham story is pretty darned compelling, but what you really need to know is this: they make cider, and they make donuts, and I'm betting that means they make...

...cider donuts...

Cider donuts are one of the best things in this crazy world of ours, and it's fall now, so I suggest you hightail it to the nearest place you can, and get yourself some.

But this is a blog about cookbooks and recipes, so let's look at one of the Wickham family recipes.
Wickham Family Pickled Cherries
"No need to process these cherries in a water bath," says Mrs. Wickham. "They'll keep all winter on the shelf. We serve them as an accompaniment to poultry or meat."

Sour cherries (any amount)
Cider vinegar to cover

1. Wash, stem and pit the cherries. Place them in a bowl and cover with cider vinegar. Let stand overnight.
2. Pour off and discard the vinegar. Measure the cherries and add an equal amount of sugar to them. Let stand until the sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Put the cherries in very clean jars and cover. Store in a cool dark place.
Look at that... preserving without processing! Putting up fruit doesn't get much easier than this, folks.

In step one, I'd suggest covering the bowl with cheesecloth or cling film, and leaving the bowl out on the counter -- not in the fridge. If you're wondering how to get "very clean jars," I'd say that those of you with dishwashers are going to need to run the washer on hot, and let the washer do the drying, too -- don't let 'em drip dry. Heat is your friend for sanitation purposes. For those of you more like, well, me, with only a sink and a dish drainer to help you out, wash the jars well in hot, soapy water. Let dry. Then, sanitize the buggers. I know, I know, part of the charm of this recipe is that you're not processing the jar in a water bath, but sanitizing is your friend, and a big ol' pot of boiling water goes a long way towards ensuring food safety. If you just can't bring yourself to do it with boiling water, or you have any inklings that your jar can't take the heat, use bleach -- 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. Soak for 20 minutes, drain. Let air dry. If you want to rinse the jar after that, do so only with boiled water.

Yes, I'm the sister of an Extension employee. Food safety is important. Don't muck about with bacteria.

And, it's STILL the easiest darned preserving method I've seen, other than "put fruit and booze in a jar, let sit for months, then drink." This one even has the benefit of creating food, not, well, booze, so it's ... at least different.

Sour cherries can be hard to find; you can use frozen, I guess, but better to find an orchard and pick your own when you can. When measuring the cherries and sugar, measure by weight, not volume, if at all possible. As it's not baking, I won't yell at you if you don't have a scale, and have to go the volume route.

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