If you ask Russians what is their favourite fruit preserve most will probably say Vishnevoe Varenye – sour cherry preserve. There is something especially comforting about sour cherry preserve, reflecting the childhood memories. Sour cherries (mostly morello type) are widely grown and harvested in Russia and other countries of Eastern Europe. Too tart to eat raw for many people, sour cherries are a fantastic fruit for preserves and pies. Here is the recipe I use for a simple and tasty sour cherry preserve
Typical Russian preserve is varenye which is quite different from jam. Varenye is usually made of whole fruits (single type or mixed) cooked in sugar syrup for several minutes in 2-4 short stages with a ‘cooling period’ between them. As a result varenye is not as thick, consistent and spreadable as jam but rather becomes caramelised fruits or berries in thick clearer syrup.
Russian sour cherry preserve: pitted or unpitted? So called ‘royal cherry preserve’ is supposed to be made of pitted cherries. But casual domestic cherry varenye is widely preferred with pits (stones) in in Russia. There are several reasons for this. It is believed that the pits kept inside cherries improve the taste of the preserve giving it some fine almond flavour. On the practical side, it is almost impossible to pit large quantities of cherries that were used in many Russian households to make sour cherry preserve for winter. And, at last, there is a certain fun for children to pick the stones while enjoying the cherry preserve and only ‘big children can have it’.
Russian sour cherry preserve / Vishnevoe Varenye
- 2.5 kg (5.5 lb) sour cherries (Morello or other types), pitted or un-pitted
- 2-2.5 kg (4.4 – 5.5 lb) sugar. Use 2 kg for the cherry preserve that is going to be eaten earlier on and 2.5 kg for cherry preserve that will be saved for the winter.
1. Use fresh, recently harvested cherries. Remove all the stems and leaves from cherries, wash the berries if they need it. I don’t wash my cherries as they come from the tree in our garden.
2. Put cherries into a large pot and randomly prickle them with a fork. That will help cherry juices to get out of berries and dissolve sugar for the preserve.
3. Put all the sugar with berries, shake the pot to let some sugar get down to the bottom. Cover with the lid and let sit for a couple of hours. In the end of this period you will see that cherries produced a lot of juice, it will likely fill in the half of the pot.
4. Turn the heat on low and start warming up your cherry preserve. With the spoon carefully let the rest of the sugar still sitting on top of cherries settle to the bottom. Mix the preserve softly trying to avoid breaking the cherries. When the cherry preserve starts boiling turn down the heat and mix the preserve to help sugar on the bottom dissolve. Slowly boil for 3-5 minutes and turn off. Cover the pot and leave on the stove.
5. Continue making your sour cherry preserve in several hours (the next day is fine). Again, let come to the boiling point, turn the heat down, let slowly boil for 3-5 minutes and turn off. Skim the foam that builds up on the top of the pot with a spoon (the photo is above). These foams was every child’s treat and I vividly remember my cousins and me sniffing around the stove tempted by the boiling cherries aroma and waiting to share ‘the foams’ when my aunt was making varenye.
6. In several hours or the next day repeat the boiling process again, for the 3rd time. After this your Russian sour cherry preserve is ready. Both cherries and syrup turned dark. Let it cool down a bit and pour into pre-sterilised jars. Store sour cherry preserve in a cool dry cupboard or larder in room temperature. Serve with tea!
The syrup from the sour cherry preserve will make a great NATURAL squash (cordial) for children’s berry drinks.