Cherry Habanero Preserves

Every once in awhile, I come up with a combination that really works and it makes me happier than you can imagine. It cracks Bob up because, usually, I’m a fairly self-deprecating individual, but, when I experience a culinary triumph, I really am my biggest fan. Anyone who follows their passion knows the feeling… which is why everyone should follow their passion.

My darling niece and her charming boyfriend brought us about 3 pounds of cherries they had picked in the valley and I wanted to do something special with them. I decided on preserves but, since I was working with some pretty sweet Bings, I knew I needed to jazz them up somehow. My first thought was cayenne but that wasn’t quite right. Then, I remembered experimenting with some habanero peppers we grew last summer and that, although they have intense heat, they also have a distinct citrus fruit flavor. I did a quick Google search to look for a recipe and found cherry habanero jam, sauce, salsa, etc. but no preserves. Bolstered by the proof that this was, indeed, a popular combination, I proceeded using a standard recipe for cherry preserves and adapted it to my needs.

The result is a bite of saucy cherry that is, at first, quite sweet then finishes with a very pleasant slow burn. Bob fell in love with it instantly and we had some over vanilla ice cream that night. The next evening we had a spoonful over grilled halibut. Both were excellent but I’m really looking forward to it paired with some soft cheese (Brie or goat cheese would do nicely) or even over a plain cheesecake. I do so love fruit and cheese!

Thank you, Alicia and Sean, for inspiring me with your gift of freshly picked cherries!

 After you’ve washed your 2 1/2 lbs of cherries …

Find two pairs of tiny, but capable, hands to pick off the stems for you….

Then, employ your handy and dandy cherry pitter  (there is no other way, you must have one) and pit them over a large bowl, retaining all the juice you possibly can.

Layer the cherries with 4 cups of sugar and let stand for about an hour. This will draw out more juice from the cherries.

Meanwhile, prepare your habanero. You may have to adjust the amount a bit according to your taste and the actual heat of the pepper you’re using (it can vary). Don’t be afraid to try a tiny slice with a fresh cherry just to see what you can expect, remembering that most of the heat is in the seeds and membrane. Have a glass of milk handy, just in case, for the testing. I used 1 1/2 peppers, seeds and membrane removed, and sliced them thinly. Then I added back in a few of the seeds (probably half a pepper’s worth) for more heat. Truth be told, I may add a few more next time to punch up the heat even more but it’s up to you to decide how much you can handle.

After the cherries and sugar have rested, transfer them to a large pot and add 1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, prepared habanero pepper, and @ 1 TB lemon zest (yellow part only). On medium heat, stirring occasionally, combine mixture until the sugar has dissolved. Raise the heat to medium-high and bring the mixture to a boil.

Boil mixture, stirring occasionally and skimming off foam until it thickens to desired consistency. I believe mine boiled for about 30 minutes but it may vary due to the heat of your stove, elevation, etc.

Test the consistency by dropping a bit of the mixture onto a plate and let it cool a minute. If you can draw a clean line through it with your finger without it running back together or make funky designs with it like I did, you should be good.

Transfer hot preserves into Mason jars and process using general canning instructions. Here are some you might find useful http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/techniques/canning-instructions-00400000012014/
Or, keep preserves in the refrigerator and consume within about 2 months.

Enjoy…. And, if this looks like no fun to you at all (Whatever! I can’t imagine!), try to make it on my “nice” list and you just might receive a cute little jar for the holidays.

Our passion is our strength.
Billie Joe Armstrong 

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