“Ripe fruit wants to be eaten….A fruit’s only purpose is to seduce animals like you and me into becoming cheerful dupes in its secret reproductive agenda,” wrote Jeffrey Steingaarten in his article “Ripeness is All” for Vogue Magazine. Come winter, however, imported fruit at the grocery store tends to lack sex appeal. So in summer we stock up on the most attractive fruit—luscious peaches, juicy plums, and sweet cherries.
Until just a couple generations ago, during long, cold winters preserving the harvest was the only way to have any fruit at all. Nostalgia came with the opening of a jar of strawberry-rhubarb jam, kosher dills, or sundried tomatoes—a February reminder of a summer of love.
There’s a comforting country feel to the concept of “putting up,” but now with half the populations of Brooklyn and Portland (yes, we know “you can pickle that”) making “old-fashioned peach preserves” and “classic pickled peppers,” it’s time to spice things up.
One way to break out of a jam rut is with booze. Instead of vanilla with peaches, try rum. For the re-popularized Manhattan, make your own Maraschino-style cherries (wear gloves unless you want purple hands). To make a raspberry shrub cocktail, muddle a cup of raspberries with ¾ cup sugar, stir in 1 cup apple cider vinegar. Let it sit in the fridge for a week before straining and adding to a glass of sparkling wine (or 2 oz gin) with ½ oz aperol.
Or do as Paul Virant and Kate Leahy do in their cookbook, “The Preservation Kitchen,” and throw most of a bottle of Riesling into a plum jam or an entire bottle of red into a blueberry aigre-doux, a sweet-and-sour sauce for anything from fish and chicken to ice cream and angel food cake.
Preserve Your Booze
But why not put the drink in the jam? "New 'old-fashioned' cherry jam" with Angostura bitters and rye whiskey is an all-ages version of the classic drink—more cherry than booze. But you can have more of it before you start to regret your decision.
Recipe: New ‘Old-Fashioned’ Cherry Jam with Rye Whiskey and Angostura Bitters Makes four 250 mL jars
I originally made this recipe with 12 lbs of cherries. It took me three hours to pit them, after which I began researching cherry pitters for home canning. This recipe has a smaller yield, but if you don’t think of purple hands as war wounds, consider investing in a pitter.
4 lbs (1.8 kg) sweet cherries Zest and juice of 1 lemon 2 cups (175 mL) sugar
1/4 cup (60 mL) rye whiskey 2 tbsp (30 mL) Angostura bitters
1. Pit and chop the cherries into smaller pieces.
2. Combine the cherries in a large non-reactive stockpot with lemon zest and juice.
3. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 20 minutes over medium-high heat.
4. Add the sugar and rye whiskey and cook, scraping the bottom of the pot, until a candy thermometer reaches 170°F/104°C (reserve half of the rye whiskey to add later with the bitters if you want to keep the jam alcoholic).
5. Add the bitters and optional reserved rye whiskey.
6. Soften lids in hot, non-boiling water for 5 minutes. 7. Ladle the warm jam into clean, sterilized jars. Remove any air bubbles with a chopstick or long, non-metallic utensil. Wipe rims with a clean, wet cloth. Tighten rims to fingertip tight and boil jars for 10 minutes in a hot water canner. Remove from heat but keep in canner 5 minutes before removing. Cool to room temperature. Store in a dark place for up to a year, but refrigerate after opening. Or skip the hot water canner processing and pour hot jam into clean jars, let cool, and keep in the fridge for up to a month.