Home-canned cherries are a great pantry ingredient to have on hand because they can go straight from the jar into pies and cobblers. They are also terrific simply spooned over ice cream or yogurt. And canning is an excellent way to preserve this summer fruit while it is at its seasonal best.
Most canning instructions for cherries include syrup made with white sugar and water. But it really is not necessary to use sugar. In fact, you could safely can cherries in plain water, but unfortunately, that results in bland-tasting and less colorful fruit.
The solution is to can cherries in fruit juice. The juice doesn't water down the flavor of the cherries, and there is no need to add sugar to it. The first choice is unsweetened cherry juice if you can find it. White grape juice is also very good for this purpose and shows off the color of the cherries. Apple juice also works well. Do not use other fruit juices, especially citrus, because they alter the taste of the cherries.
How to Can Cherries in Unsweetened Juice
Gather your fresh, bright cherries and wash them and remove the stems. It is up to you whether or not to pit the cherries before canning them. Pitting the cherries is more work up front, but then they are ready to use straight out of the jar later on. A cherry pitter is a handy tool that is inexpensive and makes the job much easier.
If you opt for pitting the cherries, have a big bowl of acidulated water ready to drop the fruit into (1 1/2 tablespoons vinegar or 3 tablespoons lemon juice per quart of water). This step prevents the cherries from discoloring when they are canned.
Not pitting the cherries doesn't really save you much time because you still have to prick each cherry with a clean needle to keep them from bursting during the canning process.
Bring the juice to a boil. Plan on half a cup of juice for each pint jar of fruit, or slightly more for quart jars. Load the cherries into clean pint or quart canning jars. It is not necessary to sterilize the jars for this recipe. Tap the bottom of the jar firmly a few times to settle the cherries in.
Pour the hot juice over the cherries. The cherries need to be submerged in the brine, but there should still be 1/2 to 1 inch of space between the surface of the food and the rims of the jars. Wipe the jar rims dry with a clean dishcloth or paper towel.