How to Make Russian Sour-Cherry Preserves

July 7, 2013

in Appetizers & Misc., Preserving, Recipes, Russian & Azerbaijani

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Few things are more representative of the Russian (and my native Azerbaijani) culture than home-brewed black tea, accompanied by a saucer of sweet, fragrant whole-fruit preserves, prepared by simmering unpitted cherries, raspberries, and other seasonal fruit in syrup until the latter has reduced and taken on the flavor of the now-candied fruit. A small amount is then served alongside a cup of hot, unsweetened tea to be eaten with a spoon between the sips. If you have never experienced this particular delight, I really recommend that you give it a try.

Here’s where I would like to make it really clear that I spent a better part of my childhood and adolescence pining after these, because my mom happened to be a rare Azerbaijani woman who simply could not make them. After I came to America and settled on our farm, plentiful with fruit that it was, learning how to put things up became my first important goal as a housewife – in part to provide for my family, in part to break my mom’s spell of fear in the kitchen. Pregnant with my first child and without any internet connection, I spent that first summer canning and freezing and pickling, teaching myself as I went with the help of a few different books. I’ve felt like an expert ever since.

The cherries that I used in this particular recipe are special, though. They came from a cherry tree outside my kitchen window, planted especially for me by my husband for my first Mother’s Day.


It took the tree the full seven years to produce a crop large enough for a couple of batches of preserves, but I did not mind waiting – I knew I had the benefit of time, thanks to choosing a steady, settled life on this particular piece of land. I didn’t plan to move and had no doubt that I’d be there to gather the first crop. This summer I was, at last, able to do it.

So, you see, I simply had to do something special with this very special batch, and few things are more special to me than tart cherries in sweet syrup. I didn’t have a recipe, but preserves are not complicated, and it only took me two tries to come up with this nostalgic, classic version. Here it is:

While we are on this subject, do check out another sour-cherry preserve recipe from my good friend Rachel of Lusa Organics (the maker of the best natural baby and body products, ever).


1 Brandi July 7, 2013 at 9:25 pm

Delicious! I think I have everything to make this!!!
I am so excited to see the final result of the house project! I have been working on our yard this year. I am trying to get berry bushes established and several cottage gardens around the house. I think it is sweet your husband planted a cherry tree on your first mothers day! So wonderful!
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2 kelly @ kellybakes July 8, 2013 at 10:56 am

Found your site through Food and Jars and am happy to report that I have a pint of sour cherries in my fridge that will find their way into these preserves! Glad to have foudn you. Can’t wait to explore your site :)
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3 Sofya July 8, 2013 at 10:57 am

Thanks, Kelly! Let me know how they turn out!

4 bridgit July 8, 2013 at 11:54 am

Funny, my husband planted a cherry tree for a mother’s day gift to me (not my first mother’s day, but close), and we are in the middle of the first harvest now. I think this is what I will do with the remaining cherries… now that the pie is done!

5 Martine July 29, 2013 at 8:08 pm

I have 5 gallons of tart cherries staring me in the face right now, so among other things will definitely be trying this! I just am curious about how you use it. You mention to serve it with black tea, so… Do you drink your tea and eat the preserves with a spoon? Mix them into the tea? With the pits in there I wouldn’t think you’d want to spread it on toast!

6 Sofya July 30, 2013 at 12:19 am

Yes, you drink unsweetened black tea and eat preserves with a spoon. You end up eating about 1/2 cup of preserves per cup of tea. An integral part of a Russian and Azerbaijani meal! Makes for great social family time.

7 Martine July 30, 2013 at 10:09 pm

Thanks for your reply! I will try that for sure. We are big black tea drinkers in winter. I did try something else with it in the meantime that turned out pretty good. I took a couple spoonfuls of the preserves with a pint of carbonated water–an italian soda! And then add a shot of full cream and it’s a french soda, mmm. Thank you for sharing the recipe and the tradition.

8 Kelly Bagdanov October 11, 2013 at 12:11 am

I’ve just spent a delightful hour bopping around your blog. So much fun. My husband is Russian and I was introduced to the cherries with tea practice through his family. We have cherry farms nearby, so I’ll be planning a trip when they do the next harvest and trying a batch.

9 Ann Soley June 29, 2014 at 7:27 pm

Unlike the other commentators, I actually made the recipe and unfortunately it did not work for me. Way too much liquid to fruit ratio, and it never gelled, after cooking it much longer than suggested. Not to worry, I will turn the results into a lovely dessert sauce by thickening with cornstarch. Saved a bit of the extra syrup for cocktail making too.

10 Sofya July 2, 2014 at 9:25 pm

It was NEVER supposed to gel, that is not the point. It’s not jam and cannot be spread on toast. It was supposed to become a very thin syrup in which fruit floats, which you eat in only one way – with a spoon, followed by a sip of unsweetened black tea. Cherries will not “gel” without pectin, if you are trying to make jam.

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