Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Cherries in Light Honey Sauce

Jars of Canned Cherries in Honey Sauce
The Finished Product, Ready to Store or Share

Recipe by Happy Girl Kitchen and Robin

My most popular post ever, referenced in the Huffington Post’s 12 Unusual Uses for Honey, is about Berries in Light Honey Sauce, adapted from a recipe from Happy Girl Kitchen. This year, since cherry season is so short, I decided to try a similar recipe to preserve some whole cherries. 

The Berries in Light Honey Sauce recipe is somewhat tart, even with 10% honey plus 5% evaporated cane juice in the sauce. This tartness makes the berries work well as toppings for ice cream, chocolate cake, and other sweetened desserts, but on their own I’ve needed to add a bit of sweetener. Since the cherries will likely be eaten without accompaniments, I doubled the amount of honey in the mix to sweeten them up. I also wanted a more noticeable honey flavor in the cherries; it’s extremely subtle in the berries.

Cup of Honey being Poured into Saucepan
Adding One Full Cup of Honey
Like in the sauce for the berries, you can choose the sweetness you like, anywhere from 10% sweetener and 90% water to a 50%-50% sweetener to water ratio—in theory. Note that adding honey lowers the boiling point of the solution. So heating the honey syrup to 200 degrees requires some finesse, because it’s quite near the boiling point. The honey-water will foam up and overflow onto the stove if not heated slowly, watched carefully, and stirred constantly. For the same reason, watch the temperature on the hot water bath while processing the fruit. The syrup might boil out of the jars a bit and color the water bath red. Though this isn’t ideal, as long as the lids snap down so the jars are sealed, the fruit will be preserved.

Cherry Picks and Rejects
The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Through the process of canning cherries, you’ll come to understand the idea of “cherry picking.” Choose only the ripe and perfectly-formed fruits. Cherries have a tendency to develop double fruits, which won’t compact properly into the jars. They can also have dried-out folds of skin where a double cherry might have developed, or a split in the skin that can develop mold. Many of these imperfect fruits can be eaten, but none are good for canning. For this reason, buy a pound or so of extra cherries--you and yours can enjoy whatever is left over from canning. Or be flexible on the quantity that actually gets canned.

Jar of Cherries Seen From Above
Wedge Cherries Tightly Under Jar Rim
Like the berries, the cherries need to be packed into the jars as tightly as possible before adding the sauce. Because they’re considerably bigger than the berries, I used pint jars instead of the half-pints that were ideal for the berries. Use a handle from a wooden spoon or similar device to gently but firmly pack the cherries together into the bottom of the jar, wedging them in and filling as many gaps as you can. At the top of the jar, wedge the cherries under the neck. You might split a cherry or two (or more) doing this. Just discard (eat!) those and continue.

Hot Honey Sauce Being Poured Over Cherries
Pour Hot Honey from Cup with Spout
Canning whole fruit is an inexact process in that it’s hard to approximate the amount of honey sauce that you’ll need to fill your jars. Total amount used depends on size of cherries and how tightly they’re packed. Of course, you want to estimate a quantity that’s too much rather than too little. I had enough leftover honey sauce to make 4 half pints of Berries in Light Honey Sauce. Instead using the sauce for more canning, you could choose to store it in the refrigerator and use it in place of simple sugar for mixed drinks, add it to your morning oatmeal, or sweeten mixed fruit salads or salad dressings.

Happy Girl Kitchen recommends eating preserved fruit within one year.

Perfect Cherry-Picked Cherries for Canning
Cream of the Crop, Perfect for Canning
Cherries in Light Honey Sauce
makes 5 pints

3 ½ lbs. picked-over cherries
5 cups water
1 cup honey
½ cup evaporated cane juice

Sterilize the jars by boiling in hot water, inverting, and letting air-dry. Wash and dry the cherries. Pack cherries into the jars using a firm touch, filling all the gaps that you can with appropriate-size cherries. Discard cherries that are old, split, or discolored. Fit as many cherries as you can into the bottom of the jar, packing them gently but firmly with a wooden spoon handle. Fill jar in layers of cherries. Wedge top layer under the jar neck as much as possible.

Combine water, honey, and sugar, and heat to 200 degrees F over medium heat, stirring constantly. If mixture boils up, remove from heat and reheat over lower heat till thermometer comes close to 200 degrees.

Pour hot honey syrup into jars, using a cup with a spout. Fill to about ¼ inch from the top. Wipe the top with a paper towel if you have spilled any liquid on it. Top with dry lid (use a new one, don’t recycle used lids).  Screw the ring on till just barely finger-tight. Air will bubble out from the beneath the lid during processing, so give it room.

Process in hot water bath canner (or large pot of boiled water that will cover jars by at least 2 inches) at 200 degrees for 20 minutes. Keep water below the boiling point to minimize risk of sauce boiling out of the jars.

Remove from hot water and let cool. When cool enough to handle, tighten rings. When completely cool, check to be sure that each cap has “snapped” down, sealing the contents (if you can push the lid and make a snapping noise, it is not sealed).

If a jar did not seal, remove the ring and cap and wipe the top of the jar dry. Check the cap to see if it looks bent—if so replace it. If not, rinse off syrup and dry it completely. Add more honey sauce if needed, re-cap and (loosely) ring the jar, and process again in the hot water bath.

Cherry season is so short that these will make great gifts or additions to dinner parties starting in late summer.


  1. This looks like a delicious recipe. We love fresh cherries and eat them almost to excess when they are in season. While I love making cherry jam there's only so much of that we can use. This is getting printed and saved for future canning. Thanks!

  2. Thanks, Mira, it's a fun recipe because the sauce turns a beautiful dark red during the processing. I'd love to see your jam recipe next cherry season!