If you happen to wander down to south west France, then sooner or later the Pyrénées will come into view. At that point, hungry and tired from your journey, you may be tempted to sample some of the local sheep’s milk cheese. Don’t be surprised if you’re offered some jam with it. The black cherry jam of the region is a classic accompaniment to the slightly sharp, rather nutty and definitely delicious cheese.
This is my somewhat anglicised and eccentric version of cherry jam inspired by that region. It makes a fine alternative to membrillo or similar quince jelly or paste. Any good, ripe cherry can be used. I know it’s not very serious jam making but this recipe will make just a single jar. I keep the amount small because cherries can be expensive and, more importantly, because I tend to shove jam to the back of a cupboard and forget about it if I make too much. It’s easy to scale the recipe up, if you want to make more.
I know that if you’re not used to making jam then the setting point can be a concern. The great thing about this jam, though, is that it’s really down to your personal preference how set the jam should be. Soft set jam will spread and scoop nicely rather like a sauce or loose chutney while a firmly set jam will be much more in line with a quince jelly. In other word, this is a pretty worry-free jam; if you get it slightly wrong the result will still be delicious and you can always claim that it was deliberate.
The jam will accompany a cheese from the south west such as Ossau Iraty very well, but it will work with other cheeses too. A slightly sharp flavour in the cheese is best I think. To be honest, this jam also works perfectly well if you don’t have any cheese and just spread it on toast or brioche.
250 g cherries (this is the weight after the stones have been removed)
130 g granulated sugar
2 tbsp runny honey
juice of ½ lemon
2 tbsp cranberry sauce
½ tsp sloe gin (optional)
Remove the stones from the cherries, then simply mix everything except the sloe gin together in a non-reactive bowl. Cover and leave overnight.
The next day, pour the contents of the bowl into a non-reactive pan and place on a medium heat. Stir frequently to ensure the sugar has dissolved but don’t be too vigorous or the cherries will lose too much of their texture. Bring to the boil and skim any undesirable-looking material from the top. (Don’t overdo the skimming or you’ll start to skim away the flavour). Continue boiling until you reach the setting point; this will probably only take 5 to 10 minutes. I tend to rely on a sugar thermometer these days to find the setting point, but there’s always the saucer in freezer test. (Drop a small amount of the hot jam onto a freezing cold saucer, leave it for a minute or so and push it with your finger. If it wrinkles, then you should be there.)
Take off the heat and stir in the sloe gin, if you’re using it. Let the jam cool a little, pour into a sterilised jar and seal.