Eight years ago I planted a sour cherry tree, actually, I planted three sour cherry trees, a Richmorency a North Star and a Montmorency. I didn’t plant any sweet cherry trees like normal people – just sour ones. Someone told me they were high in something that was beneficial. They are apparently good for helping you sleep and have strong anti-inflammatory properties.
All I know is that they grew prolifically, cropped heavily early each summer and tasted terrible. A couple of years ago I cut out the Montmorency and North Star because, like all aspiring home orchardists, I planted everything far too close together and after all, these trees were only feeding the birds.
I’m not sure why I kept the one tree, probably because it was a nice shape. Anyway, this summer it had a spectacular crop – just too spectacular to let the birds eat – so for the first time I decided to do something with them. Sour cherries are a culinary fruit. They are prized in North America for cherry pie and cherry jam, but I had something else in mind for them. Sour needs sweet and I wanted to have a crack at the age-old culinary art of glacè fruit.
My sour little fruit needed all the sugar they could get and with a bit of research I established that to glacè is to basically replace all the moisture in the fruit with a sugar syrup. It is a gradual process, undertaken over a series of days. By soaking the fruit in an ever-increasingly strong bath of sugar syrup, you firm and extract the juice from the flesh without losing the flavor, drying or crystallising it. If you do it right you are left with a perfectly preserved plump specimen – a bit like taxidermy for fruit.
This method of preserving dates back centuries and enabled summer fruits to be stored for use at special occasions throughout the year. The technique, also known as candied fruits, was used for lemons, oranges, and even roses as well as cherries.
At this time of year, in particular, the glacè cherry gets a good workout in the kitchen. It is literally the cherry on top and inside our panforte, stollen, cassata, panettone and of course, the traditional Christmas cake. But if you take a look at the ingredients list of your average glacè cherry these days you’ll find an impressive array of preservatives and coloring that take it a fair way away from a piece of fruit steeped in sugar. In fact, I think the glacè cherries I found lurking in my spice cupboard from last Christmas could probably survive a nuclear winter.
In our current anti-sugar food climate glacè fruit is possibly not the most popular subject to be writing about but I’m sure the medicinal values of my sour cherries will balance things out – a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down right?
Now I don’t expect many people to do this at home, but I was so impressed with the results I have to share the method with you. We did a taste test at the end between the store bought ones and the homemade ones and the homemade ones won by a country mile. They were bursting with flavor while the store bought ones tasted like vanilla essence coated in vegetable oil.
- Do a reasonable quantity – you don’t want to go to all that trouble for a small jar of finished glacè cherries.
- Try and source sour cherries that are ripe but still firm fleshed. You don’t want over-ripe, or very sweet fruit to start with.
400 g sugar (and more to strengthen the syrup each day)
- Remove the stalks and wash the cherries in cold water. Remove the stones with a cherry pitter.
- Put the cherries in a saucepan and pour enough boiling water over to cover them and cook for 2 minutes, just to soften the skins.
- Drain through a colander, reserving the cooking water and rinse the cherries straight away under cold water in the colander until the fruit has cooled. This stops them softening.
- Add the sugar to the cooking water and bring it to the boil, stirring so the sugar dissolves.
- Put the cherries in a large flat pan, pour the sugar mixture over them and leave for 24 hours.
- Drain the cherries, measure the syrup and add 50 g of sugar for every pint of syrup. Heat the syrup to dissolve the sugar. Pour over the fruit in the tray and leave for 24 hours.
Day 3 – 7
- Repeat Day 2- adding 70 g of sugar for every pint of syrup.
- Drain the cherries, measure the syrup, add 40 g of sugar for every 100 ml of syrup.
- Bring the syrup to a boil to dissolve the sugar then add the cherries and boil for 2 minutes, return to the tray for 24 hours.
- Repeat Day 8
- Heat the syrup gently to release the fruit then drain the cherries from the syrup. Keep the syrup for use in cordials, desserts, cocktails or just drizzle it over ice cream or spoon a little through yogurt.
- Lay the cherries on a sheet of baking paper and dry them in a warm airy place until they are no longer sticky (change the paper and turn as required) OR if you have a food dehydrator place the cherries on the mesh tray and dry for several hours on the lowest temperature setting, checking them regularly. You don’t want to overdry them or dry them too quickly. If they start wrinkling stop the dehydrator and air dry them.
- There is probably enough sugar in them to store them in a jar on a cool shelf, but I’ve put my jars in the fridge to be on the safe side.