Cherry and Sour Cherry Preserves
"Kerasi or Vissino" is one of the easiest preserves. Traditionally in July Greek cooks make sour cherry (vissino) preserves to serve with ice cream or yogurt throughout the year.
The cornerstone of Greek sweets are the preserves made with the fruits of every season.
Each home has several different jars of fruit in the pantry, and guests are offered a teaspoon with a glass of water as a welcome to the house.
Adapted from my book The Foods of the Greek Islands.
I know that fresh sour cherries are not the easiest fruit for most people to get, and their season is so short, so I suggest you make the preserves with perokerasa (Rainier cherries) instead.
Unfortunately, the true color of the Rainier cherries preserves is a quite unattractive murky yellow, so you are better off adding a few drops of red food coloring. Instead, I prefer to boil a red beet with the cherries, a trick I learned from Tunisian cooks.
Makes 3 cups
2 pounds firm cherries, such as Rainier or Royal Ann (not pie cherries or Bing cherries), pitted (see NOTE Sour Cherry preserves)
2 cups sugar
1 small red beet, peeled and quartered (optional)
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
2–3 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
In a large bowl, combine the cherries and sugar and toss well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight, or for up to 2 days.
Transfer the cherry mixture to a large saucepan and bring to a boil, stirring occasionally until the sugar dissolves.
Boil for 3 minutes, then remove from the heat.
Let cool completely. With a slotted spoon, transfer the cherries to a colander set over a large bowl. Bring the syrup to a boil and boil for 2 minutes. Add the beet (if using), the lemon juice and the syrup from the bowl. Boil the syrup until it reaches 235°F to 240°F on a candy thermometer.
Return the cherries to the pan and boil for 2 minutes more. Remove from the heat, add the vanilla extract and let cool completely. Discard the beet and pour the cherries into clean jars, filling almost to he top, then close he lids. As they cool, they will pop and seal so they will keep for up to a year, at least in a cool place.
If they do not seal, store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months.
NOTE: Vissino, Sour Cherry Preserves
As sour cherries are quite tart, you may need to double the amount of sugar. It all depends on your personal taste. The Greek tradition is to add 1 kilo sugar for each kilo of pitted cherries, but this is far too much for my taste. I usually add powdered fruit pectin so that I keep sugar to a minimum, and boiling just until cherries are softened, but keep their bite and vivid red color, not turn very dark red…
No aromatic or coloring is needed here, of course.