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Cherry preserves with minimal sugar?

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Last year I was in SF and brought back a jar of fantastic bing cherry preserves. It was delicious and now it's gone. I bought a jar of cherry preserves (Hero) at the supermarket last week and, well, it just wasn't as good (too sweet, not as flavorful, etc).

So now I'm considering making my own, and I have a few questions:
1. Could I start with frozen fruit (such as Trader Joe's frozen sweet cherries)?
2. Do I really have to add 3/4 of the fruit's weight of sugar in order to prevent mold formation, even if I use sterilized jars and such? I really love slightly tart fruit pies (I add hardly any sugar to blueberry or apple pie fillings), and I'd love to be able to make preserves with as little sugar as possible.

Then again, it's not like I'm trying to use up a ton of fruit that I've got in my yard or anything-- so if I only make small batches and consume them quickly, it's not an issue?

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  1. "Do I really have to add 3/4 of the fruit's weight of sugar in order to prevent mold formation"
    ~~~~~~~
    absolutely not. use as little sugar as you want to, just make sure you seal & store the jars properly.

    1. From what I understand with traditional pectin you need the sugar to help the preserves jell properly. I have made them using Pomona pectin, that I bought at the natural food coop and it works well. You may need to mess with the amounts a bit. Sugar is a preservative and will help keep thing from going bad. If you are using less than called for in a recipe I would make small amounts and take extra care when steralizing jars. You can also make freezer jam which uses a liquid pectin, and allows for you to use as little sugar as you like, without worrying about food safety. Good luck and enjoy.

      1. You might like preserves made with sour or tart cherries better than the same stuff made with sweet cherries. I've been able to find a few kinds made with sour cherries including some I'm getting from our coop.

        Or if you make your own, you might want to start with sour cherries. You can get frozen sour cherries, at least around here. Some of the frozen cherries from Michigan are sour cherries.

        1. Jelling in traditional preserves and jellies comes about as a reaction of an interaction of pectin and acid and sugar in solution. Some of the newer formulations of pectin work well with low-sugar solutions by interacting with calcium. So instead of speaking in generalities, it would probably be better to check with a manufacturer of pectin. For example, see www.pacificpectin.com. They have a good recipe page and FAQ's, and if you don't get the answer you want, phone them. That said, I used to get extraordinary cherry preserves and Peet's Coffe and Tea (located in a number of places in the S.F. Bay Area). I don't recall the brand, but you could probably phone Peet's and get the name of the manufacturer. Then a trip to the web might tell you if the product is available in your locality. Making preserves can be fun. But other times it is just as easy to find it already made. And, of course there are lots of "artisanal" preserve makers around the country. Just Google "cherry preserves." On the East Coast, McKutcheon's in Frederick, MD, makes a great line of jams, jellies, and preserves that contain no corn syrup, only sucrose and/or fruit juice. They make a very good sour cherry preserve. I don't recall whether they make a bing cherry preserve.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Father Kitchen

            I just checked some recipe books. The best preserve procedure I know of can be found in Madeleine Bullwinkel's "Gourmet Preserves Chez Madeleine." Her cherry preserve recipe with cassis calls for 3/4 sugar to fruit by weight, though the cassis will introduce a bit more sugar. On the opposite end of the scale, some other recipes call for equal weight to fruit. So 3/4 by weight is still on the less sweet side. In any case, preserved fruit are going to be sweet. Fruit butters would be less sweet. I haven't made low-sugar preserves. But I suspect you are not going to get a quality preserve without a fair amount of sugar. I am leery of artificial sweeteners like Splenda because of health consequences. And I like the suggestion of using frozen sour cherries. Their natural tartness would prevent the sweetness from being overpowering.

          2. This has happened to me before, you buy some preserves but they don't have the actual flavor or taste you are looking for. While making them from scratch is a good option, you might also try incorporating some Amaretto liquer or almond flavoring in the preserves to cut the sugar and make them a little more flavorful.

            1. Thanks guys. I think Peet's in CA carries June Taylor's jams, which are the kind I had originally. Sadly, I'm on the east coast with nary a sour cherry to be found, even in the summer. I'll look for McKutcheon's, and do my own experimenting.

              3 Replies
              1. re: blue129

                You might want to check the June Taylor website. June's jams are sold on the East Coast. I found them once in downtown D.C. through the web listing.

                1. re: blue129

                  If you do want to try to make some sour cherry preserves, look for frozen Michigan cherries. Most of those are the sour kind. They don't store and ship well, so its hard to get them unless you live closeby the orchards in the summer. So much of it is sold frozen.

                  I see the MIchigan cherries in the freezer section of our grocery stores.

                  1. re: karykat

                    Lucky you. I bought them all the time in Wisconsin and can't find them in D.C.

                2. I would be very cautious about altering a recipe on my own, becase the amount of sugar affects preserving and the ability to prevent mold growth. Follow a low sugar recipe, rather than take a recipe and change it yourself. If you are only making small amounts at a time, just keeping it in the fridge will also help.

                  1. I've been making artisanal preserves for several years. Small batches using locally grown fruit. Pomona pectin does a splendid job of helping preserves set in a low sugar environment. Sugar is not the only preservative, however. One must also consider pH, and be sure the product is sufficient acidic. A pH of 4.6 or lower is recommended. I find adding citric acid or ascorbic acid works well. Good luck!