My mother-in-law always has a stash of homemade fruit preserves in the dark recesses of her refrigerator. She goes through them slowly, scooping half a cup from each jar at a time and keeping them in little glass containers which she puts on the table at breakfast time and we spread them on fresh baked bread from down the street: tangy sweet strawberry over a layer of hazelnut spread on crusty whole wheat, tart cherry on toasted white. My husband likes homemade jam in his tea, in lieu of honey or sugar. Sometimes we put a dollop on strained yogurt. I’d eat them by the spoonful if I could. Instead we restrain ourselves, knowing that otherwise it won’t last until the next fruit season – the sour cherry trees outside the family apartment block only has fruit a few weeks out of the year.
Some weeks ago we stayed two nights at a farm guesthouse in Rot Front village outside of Tokmok, run by (apparently) a Canadian missionary-ish couple. A friend had stayed the weekend before and recommended it; we needed a break from Bishkek, and it wasn’t far (or at least it should’t have been, had we been given the correct directions and not spent several hours driving around the Kyrgyz countryside, and had there not just been a storm that knocked down powerlines and layed trees across the roads). The first night we arrived, famished and exhausted at 9pm. Our daughter had already fallen asleep in the car, after I fed her crumbling banana-oat-coconut flour muffins for dinner (sorry baby!). They had dinner waiting for us, and we sat down to eat as the lights flickered on. This being a farm located in the countryside, and this being late June, when the bazaars are full of fresh produce, I was expecting well, farm food. Instead we got heaping plates (literally serving plate-sized portions) of macaroni, the kind that comes in industrial 20 kg bags, not even hand-pulled noodles, mixed with salami/spam and some mysterious oily orange sauce. On the side, half hidden under the noodles, was a tiny cucumber salad. I thought maybe this was on account of the storm knocking out the electricity and them not being able to…cook anything else? But the next day was the same – chickens running around, a lowering cow in the barn, farm fields and green houses stretching behind the main house, but we had blini (pancakes) and seminola cereal for breakfast, with powdered milk to put in our tea.
So we picked cucumbers from the field, rasperries from the bushes – and bowls upon bowls of sour red cherries from the trees lining the lane. When I got back to Bishkek and we actually had other food options again I decided to try my hand at cherry compote (aka sour cherry preserve) rather than let the fruit rot. The recipe turned out every bit as good as what my mother-in-law makes – alternately sweet and tart, tantalizing the tongue and so good I eat it by the spoonful.
Because less sugar and no pectin is used in this recipe, it will be less ‘solid’ – unless you add chia seeds (after you pull the mixture off the stove). Add 1 Tbs, wait an hour, and then still in more, one teaspoon at a time, until it reaches desired consistency.
Lasts in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks (but don’t worry – it will be gone long before then!)
- 4-6 cups sour cherries
- 1/3-1/2 cup sugar, depending on your desired level of sweetness
- 1″-1/2 a lemon (juice and peel; use more if you like a tarter preserve)
- Optional: 1-2 Tbs chia seeds
- Place several metal spoons in the freezer
- Clean and pit the cherries.
- Mash together the cherries, lemon peel, lemon juice and sugar
- Pour the mixture into a large saucepan and bring to a simmer on medium heat
- Let simmer for 6-8 minutes. Check to see if the preserve is ready using a spoon from the freezer. If the mixture sticks to the spoon and slides off slowly, then it is ready. If it slides off readily, simmer for several more minutes.
- Remove from heat when done and let sit to ‘jell’
- Optional: to make the mixture thicker, stir in 1 Tbs chia seeds