Sour Cherry Preserves with Bourbon

July 4, 2018(updated on August 30, 2021)

It’s day two of cherry week and today, I’m sharing one of my favorite recipes from my second cookbook, Preserving by the Pint. For this one, you simmer sour cherries together with sugar, lemon juice, and bourbon together for five or six minutes, until the liquid thickens a little and the cherries are just soft. The alcohol cooks off as the syrup boils, so there’s no lingering booziness, just a little extra richness that helps balance the flavor of the tart cherries.

This exact recipe doesn’t work well with sweet cherries, but one could add a splash of bourbon to this approach, to approximate the flavor.

Make sure to check back tomorrow for another recipe featuring cherries!

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Bourbon Sour Cherry Preserves


  • 1 1/2 pounds sour cherries pitted
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons bourbon


  • Prepare a boiling water bath canner and 3 half pint jars.
  • Place the pitted cherries in a pan that holds at least five quarts (these cherries will foam a lot) and add the sugar, lemon juice, and bourbon. Stir to help the sugar dissolve.
  • Once the contents of the pan look juicy, place it on the stove over high heat.
  • Bring the cherries and their liquid to a boil and let them cook at a good clip for 5 to 6 minutes, until cherries soften a little and the liquid in the pan as thickened a bit.
  • Remove pan from heat, funnel cherries and syrup into prepared jars, leaving 1/2 inch headspace. Use a wooden chopstick to remove any trapped air bubbles and adjust the headspace as is necessary. Wipe the rims, apply the lids and rings, and process in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
  • When the time is up, remove the jars and set them on a folded kitchen towel to cool. When the jars have cooled enough that you can comfortably handle them, check the seals. Sealed jars can be stored at room temperature for up to a year. Any unsealed jars should be refrigerated and used promptly.

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16 thoughts on "Sour Cherry Preserves with Bourbon"

  • I so wish I could get sour cherries locally. I would be so on this, making enough for several pies.

    But unfortunately the only fresh cherries we get are the sweet ones.

    I did luck into some currants one year but haven’t since.

    1. You can find frozen sour cherries in the frozen fruit aisle of any major grocery store. They also work well for this recipe.

      This is a pretty standard cherry preserve recipe and I use it a lot as a sauce for white fish (thought I add a tiny bit more bourbon when used for that.)

      To make the fish, salt and pepper it, cover with crushed up nuts (cashews or almonds work best, but if you don’t like nuts you can also use panko bread crumbs). Bake at 375f until done (use a thermometer to test, it will depend on the thickness of your fish.)

      To serve, put about a tablespoon of the the cherry bourbon sauce on a plate, then place the fish on top of the sauce. (You don’t want to spoon the sauce over the top of the fish because you’ll loose some of the crispness.)

  • What is the role of bourbon in this recipe? I wonder if there is anything more than just the fact that adding alcohol to recipe make it sound better ;-).

  • Just made a double batch! There was a bit of leftover syrup that I saved to make some bourbon cocktails later tonight.

  • What else would you substitute for the bourbon for a lighter flavour? Grand mariners??
    Any other suggestions?

  • I usually use my supply of sour cherries by drying half and making a cherry lemon marmalade, so this will be a good alternative for this year’s harvest!

  • Could I use frozen sour cherries and just defrost them with the sugar on top and then continue with the recipe, or will I end up with something unappetizing? We went picking a few weeks ago and froze all of our cherries right away because they were super ripe and juicy.

    1. Sour cherries don’t have a lot of pectin, so while you could cook it down, it’s not really going to become jam. It will be soft cherries without much liquid. You’d be better off finding a sour cherry jam recipe and adding bourbon to it. This one might work for you (and you can always cut the recipe in half if you don’t have as many cherries as the recipe calls for).

  • Hi, This sounds like something I would like to try. I have soaked cherries since July for making “cherry bounce”, I’m wondering though, if I use those soaked cherries I fear there will be too much of an alcohol taste. Can I just simmer them longer to get rid of that alcohol? How long? Thanks, Jim

    1. There is no amount of simmering that will remove the alcohol flavor from cherries that have been sitting in booze for 5-6 months. You’d be better off to wait until cherry season comes around again.