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Brook Hurst Stephens

The Bling of Bing Cherries

Thanks to our friends at the Washington State Fruit Commission, we’ve got cherries on the brain — and on the stove, and in jars. For the second year in a row, we’ve been gifted with Bing cherries like nobody’s business. In celebration, we’ll be dishing up the myriad ways you can preserve cherries all week long. Washington state is cherry country, and this year’s crop of Bings is bodacious, as CAA member Brook Hurst Stephens describes them, below.

Brook's Bing "bling" atop vanilla ice cream. Photo: Brook Hurst Stephens.

At our most recent Canning Across America meeting, we were greeted by the news that Northwest Cherries had dropped off some Bing cherries for us to can. As preservers, we enjoy spending time in the kitchen and most of us like to try out new recipes too. I think I can speak for everyone at the meeting when I say we were all grateful for a few pounds of fresh-picked fruit to experiment with. One small detail: I’m pretty darn sure I was the only person in the room who happens to be the daughter of a cherry orchardist. My dad grows Rainiers, Chelans, and Bings in the Wenatchee Valley.  Sad but true, due to Dad’s busy schedule and mine — plus being separated by 150 miles — I haven’t seen even a single cherry from his crop this year.

I grew up picking cherries, sorting cherries, having tee shirt-staining cherry wars in the orchards with my brothers and of course, eating plenty of fresh-picked cherries. None of my previous cherry experience really prepared me for what I was about to behold. First let me tell you that I’d heard rumors that this has been a stellar year for cherries. If the big bodacious Bings we were given at the CAA meeting are any indication of this year’s crop, the rumors are 100 percent. true.

Over the past 25 years I’ve made lots of recipes with fresh cherries: jam, chutney, jelly, brandied and even pickled cherries. These Bing cherries were speaking to me from the moment we met. They were saying “Don’t mess with us….we’re perfect just the way we are.” So I took them home and did my best to keep them in their purest form while still preserving them.

What I came up with is my version of a Classic Cherry Compote. This recipe is simple and quick. The cherries are first stemmed, then washed and packed into jars with the pits still intact. Next fill the jars with a hot syrup made from sugar and water, top with sealing lids & ring bands and process.

These Bing cherries preserved in delectable ruby-red syrup are as satisfying to eat as they are spectacular to look at.  I now have several jars of Bling — I mean “Bing” Cherry Compote in my pantry, and I have a feeling they’ll be dazzling my table on more than a few drab winter days. My only concern? I just hope I made enough to last until cherry season 2012.


Can-It-Forward Stars: Brook Hurst Stephens

In the days leading up to Can-It-Forward Day & our third annual Can-a-Rama kickoff, we’ll be giving a daily shout out to the dedicated group of folks who will be on location showing the ropes of everyday preserving and who have been instrumental to our mission of reviving the lost art of “putting up” food through safe food preservation and community building.

Brook Hurst Stephens.

That’s Brook.  She joined our ranks this spring and our only regret is why it took so long for us to meet. Her passion for preserving is infectious, and we think you’ll agree when you meet her on Can-It-Forward Day.  Brook has a lively blog aptly named Learn to Preserve, where she’s constantly sharing the lessons learned at the stove.

What inspires her to can:
Growing up the Wenatchee Valley of Washington state,  everyone had a fruit tree in their back yard, if not an entire orchard. As a child, many of my friends had rows of beautiful jars of homemade pickles, jams and fruit butters in their pantries. To me, all of that homemade goodness was irresistibly delicious and more than once I invited myself to someone’s house for an “after-school snack” based mainly on the fact that their mom made the best sweet syrup-y peaches or bread & butter pickles.

Since a young age I’ve enjoyed gardening and cooking; these two things seemed to progress naturally to learning how to preserve. Once I discovered how to duplicate the magical alchemy of fruit + sugar + heat = jam in my own kitchen, I became obsessed with preserving.

Today I find my inspiration all around me, all year ’round. Whether it’s the wild huckleberries on your walk through the woods, the unwanted crab apples from a neighbor’s tree or one of the many farms and farmers markets in Washington state, I promise you can find something to “put up” on a daily basis.

Brook will be leading the canned tomatoes demo Saturday, August 13 (Noon PST) at Seattle’s Pike Place Market. Her trusty assistant is food writer Leslie Seaton. (Go here for the full schedule of the Aug. 13-14 Can-It-Forward events.) You can connect with Brook on twitter: @LearnToPreserve.



CAA Photo of the Week: Monkey Butter by Brook Hurst Stephens

Monkey Butter on toast
This week’s photo of the week is a treat — Monkey Butter by Brook Hurst Stephens. Brook shares her recipe for Monkey Butter (Banana Jam) on her blog, Learn to Preserve. What a great resource!

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