How to Can Cherries

On a good day this last week, Tom went out and picked over 70 pounds of cherries!  We didn’t want that many to go to waste, and since cherries are so easy to can, I thought, “Why not?”  I went over to my mom’s and got the canner and a few other supplies & got to work.  I ended up getting 40 quarts of cherries canned, and when I posted a photo on Facebook, I had a bunch of people ask for my recipe.  Well, I thought I’d do one better and create a how-to blog.  When it comes to “doing” stuff, the computer is my best friend right now. 🙂  So enjoy the following instructions and hopefully get some cherries canned for yourself!

Step 1: Pick your cherries.  Try to get red, firm cherries with minimal defects.  Allow for about 1.5 lbs of fruit per quart jar – this takes into account that there will be some cherries you won’t be using.  Some you will throw & you’ll eat a bunch too. 🙂
Step 2: Before you wash your canning jars, check for cracks and/or chips.  Those types of jars cannot be used as they will not be able to seal correctly.  I run mine through the dishwasher so that I know they’ve also been sterilized.
Step 3: Prepare/wash your workspace & get all your supplies.  You will need the following:
  • Cherries
  • Canning jars – enough for all your fruit.
  • Large hot water bath canner with lid.  With or without the metal rack in the bottom.  
  • Small 1 quart saucepan for simmering canning lids.  
  • Larger 4 quart saucepan for cooking the sugar syrup.
  • Canning tongs to remove jars from boiling water.
  • Quart sized canning jars – narrow or large mouth doesn’t matter.  Take your total pounds of fruit, divide it by 1.5 and that will be approximately how many jars that you will need.
  • Self sealing canning lids – as many as you have jars.  I like the Ball brand best – when I did my canning, I had 100% sealing results.  
  • Jar rings to hold the canning lids to the jars.
  • Plastic canning funnel (can be found where other canning supplies are sold)*
  • Fruit/vegetable wash
  • Dishpan that fits into your sink (or you could use it as a sink!)
  • Colander
  • 5-10 pounds of white sugar
  • 1/2 cup measuring cup
  • 4 quart glass measuring pitcher – I love the Pampered Chef’s Mix-n-Stor Pitcher
  • 1 cup glass liquid measuring cup
  • Clean dishcloth
  • Clean dishtowel
Once you have all your supplies, you can start preparing to can!
Step 4: Most hot water bath canners hold 7 quart size jars, but if you’re not sure, check before you fill it with water.  Fill hot water bath canner approximately 1/4 to 1/3 full of cool water and place on a large stove burner.  Turn burner on medium to start heating the water.  (You do not want the water to boil before putting in the jars, as cold jars into boiling water run the risk of breaking.  Then you’d really have a mess! 🙂 
Step 5: Start the sugar syrup for the jars.  Count how many quarts you are putting into the first cannerfull.  Use the 4 quart saucepan & put in 1/2 cup sugar & 1/2 cup water for each quart jar.  Turn to medium & stir occasionally until sugar is dissolved.  Once sugar has completely dissolved, you can turn the heat down to medium-low if you want, but the most important thing is not to let it boil.
Step 6: Take the 1 quart saucepan & place 7-10 canning lids inside.  Rotate the lids top up & bottom up and stagger in the pan.  Gently fill the saucepan with enough water to easily cover all the lids.  Place the pan on a small burner & simmer on low.  (Keep an eye on the pan throughout the process & add more water if necessary.)
Step 7: Place the dishpan in your sink.  Fill it with cool water and add 1 tablespoon of fruit/vegetable wash for every quart of cool water.
Step 8: Add handfuls of cherries to the soapy water and swish the water around to wash them.  As you’re adding them, look them over and toss out any that are bruised or badly split.  A small split near the stem area isn’t going to make a big deal, but you do want to use the best cherries.  We tossed the “junk” berries out to our backyard chickens.  You might want to high-grade the cherries and have a bowl of ones that are too good to throw away, and keep them for nibbling. 🙂  Don’t bother pitting them, that’s part of the fun as you eat!
Step 9:  Place colander in the sink, and scoop handfuls of clean cherries out of the soapy water.  Rinse under running water & put into the colander.  Repeat until the colander is full.
Step 10:  Once you have a full colander of cherries, take the plastic canning funnel and place in the top of a jar.  Fill with freshly washed cherries – they do not need to be dry.  Slightly pack to the “collar” of the jar, but do not overfill. Repeat for each jar.
Step 11:  Pour the hot sugar syrup into the 4 quart pitcher.  If you follow my directions, there should be a little more than 2/3 cup of syrup for each jar.  Use the small glass measuring cup to pour approximately 2/3 cup syrup into each jar.  Repeat in each of the jars.  If there is any syrup left, divide it between the jars.  Fill the remaining space  with tap water to no closer than 1″ from the top of the jar.  It’s better to be a little too low than too high.  If you put too much water in, it will expand, overflow in the canner & probably not seal.
Step 12: Dampen the clean dishcloth and wipe the tops of each jar.  Once wiped, I run a finger over the top edge just to make sure that there aren’t any chips or cracks – sometimes they can show up after going through the dishwasher.
Step 13: Carefully lift out one canning lid from the simmering water – I use a salad fork. 🙂  Try not to touch the rubber area that will make the seal.  Center it on the jar & place a jar ring on top.  Gently tighten the lid – NOT TOO TIGHT!  A good rule of thumb, is to screw it on with a fingertip hold, and once it stops, turn it a hair more.  Don’t worry, you’ll get the hang of judging when it’s just right.
Step 14: Once the jars are prepared, slowly lower them into the hot water bath canner.  Add enough water to the canner so that the tallest jar is covered about 1/2 inch.  Turn the heat up to High, and set the timer for 20 minutes.  You might check it a time or two to make sure it’s getting hotter – you never know when the knob could get bumped and it got turned off.  (Trust me, I’m speaking from experience here.) If this happens, just add another 5 minutes.
Step 15: When the timer rings, lift off the lid.  The water should be rapidly boiling at this point.  Protect your hand from the steam & turn off the burner.  Use the canning tongs to remove the jars from the water.  I like to hold a dishtowel under the jars to catch any errant drops of water & protect my hands!  Place finished jars on a heat proof surface (I use a wooden cutting board) in a draft-free place.  Repeat steps 6-15 for the next cannerfull. 🙂
Step 16: Listen for the glorious “POP” of each jar sealing.  Make sure you (or your kiddos/helpers) do NOT touch the tops of the jars until they are completely cool.  If you end up with some jars that didn’t seal, you can choose to reprocess the jars for an additional 20 minutes, or put the jars in the refrigerator & enjoy them right away.  I do recommend that you label the tops with the year.  They will keep easily until next year – some people keep them longer, but they really should be enjoyed by next cherry season so you can do this again!
Step 17: CONGRATULATIONS!  You have successfully learned how to can cherries!