One of the wonders of early summer is cherry season. Sweet Bing and Mount Rainier cherries start popping up at the grocery store, while tart sour (or pie) cherries start to burden the branches of Midwestern trees. My parents have a few fruit trees  and after many, many years of bad luck have finally had a bumper crop year for cherries. So when I went home for a wedding two weeks ago, I decided to pick a few gallons worth of cherries and make a batch of sour cherry jam. My father and I went outside with a couple of ice cream buckets and talked while filling them up.

The first time I made jam was a few years ago, but I felt like I could improve on the recipe. I think I over processed the cherries last time, so there were only tiny pieces of cherry, not big chunks. Also, I didn’t use any almond extract and I’ve since found that a little of that stuff really enhances the flavor of anything with a bunch of cherries. I really liked using a low or no-sugar pectin as I don’t want my jams or jellies to be very sweet, so that I repeated. I really think that this recipe is close to perfect for my tastes.

I’m not including my processing instructions for canning the jam because everyone seems to have very strong opinions about it. I suggest reading the instructions that come with your pectin and googling “home canning” to read up on the process. I just use the boiling method, but there may be some small amount of risk involved (I’ve been eating food preserved this way my entire life, as have many other people, without ever getting sick).

I realized after making the jam that this would qualify for the Grow Your Own event hosted by Andrea at Andrea’s Recipes. This blogging event features ingredients produced by the cooks, or given to the cooks (not purchased), which is a nice exception since I’m limited to container gardening and mostly only grow my own herbs and a few grape tomatoes.

Since my dad and I picked the cherries I decided to use the entire cherry. Save the pits because when crushed, cherry pits (or more accurately the small stones inside the pits) make a lightly flavored, but delicious ice cream (recipe coming soon!). For the jam – I suggest eating it with some crusty bread or stirred into some thick greek yogurt.

Sour Cherry Jam

Makes about 4 pints (I had 6 half-pints and 1 pint jars full)

3 lbs sour or pie cherries, pitted and crushed by hand
1 cup water
1 package no-sugar pectin
1 cup sugar
a few drops real almond extract

To crush the cherries, I would usually tear them into two pieces and mash them a little as I pitted them. Make sure to do this over a container so you capture all the juice that runs out of the cherry as you crush it.¬† When you’re processed all the cherries place them in a large pot with the water and bring to a simmer. Cook for about 5 minutes and then add the pectin.

Stir the mixture well and return to a boil. Simmer for about another 5 minutes before adding the sugar. Return to a simmer one more time and cook for another 10 minutes.

Turn the heat down to low or off and add the almond extract. Begin filling jars and canning based on whatever directions you choose.

Note: It is likely that the jar you fill and process first will be a little runnier than the jar you do last – that is normal and okay.