I grew up in a family with a fairly limited condiment scope. We ate ketchup on burgers, grainy mustard on hot dogs and sausage and dipped steamed broccoli florets into little puddles of mayonnaise. Pickles were cucumber dills, either eaten whole as a snack, or sliced and blotted before being stacked in a sandwich. Jam was strawberry or plum (made from the fruit off our backyard trees) and salad dressing was Good Seasonings, made from the spice packet in the branded cruet.
This isn’t to say I grew up in a community of boring eaters. We were among the first people I knew to regularly stock teriyaki sauce and my mom liked to make the Good Seasonings dressing a little more interesting with the addition of balsamic vinegar or toasted sesame oil. Real maple syrup was the rule. In fact, my brief devotion to the fake stuff caused my father a great deal of anguish. There was always soy sauce in the fridge and we had a wicked pickled ginger phase after my parents’ early nineties trip to Hawaii.
In recent years, it’s been deeply gratifying to branch out beyond my childhood condiments (although I still firmly believe that ketchup on a hot dog is sacrilege) and explore a broader world of homemade flavor. However, until very recently there was an area I’d yet to broach.
I toyed with a recipe for pickled Seckel pears last fall, but preserved them in a gingery syrup instead. I contemplated pickled blueberries, but opted to simply eat the last of my picking out of hand. I was uneasy about it, fearful I’d make something off-putting and end up wasting good food.
However, when faced with nearly eight pounds of juicy, ripe cherries from the Washington State Fruit Commission (thanks Sweet Preservation), I knew the time was ripe to pickle. I consulted several recipes and concocted a brine that was sweet and tart. I added a few peppercorns for spice and a bay leaf for nuance to each jar, packed the cherries in and hoped for the best.
As you might have guessed, my expectations were far too low. These pickled cherries are amazing! They are sweet and puckery, and despite the water bath, managed to retain a bit of that snap and gentle crunch you get when you first bite into a really good cherry. I am smitten. If you are still able to get sweet cherries in your area I highly encourage you to make a batch.
Oh, and one more thing. If you live in the Philadelphia area, there’s going to be an opportunity for you to taste these, along with a couple other pickles I’ve made recently, so keep your eyes peeled. More on Monday!
- 2 cups water
- 2 1/2 cups white vinegar
- 2 cups sugar
- 5 bay leaves
- 7-8 peppercorns per jar
- 3 pounds cherries, washed and stems trimmed
- Combine the water, vinegar and sugar in a saucepan and bring to a gentle boil.
- Place bay leaves and peppercorns into your jars. Pack the cherries in jars as tightly as you can manage, but without squashing them.
- Pour brine over the cherries, leaving 1/2 inch of headspace. Instead of using a chopstick to remove any air bubbles, gently tap the jars on a towel-lined countertop so that the bubbles rise to the surface.
- Wipe rims, apply lids and process in a boiling water canner for 10 minutes.
- When jars are cool, check seals. Eat cherries with cheese and feel joyful.