I went cherry picking today with my friend Dekalb — not at an orchard, but at a parking lot that’s been home to these trees for the past few decades. The trees actually predate the parking lot, or so we have been told by the parking lot owners, who are happy to have us pick the cherries without remuneration since it means fewer of them dropping on the pavement and attracting bees.
When we started picking at this lot, there were three trees: two had yellow sweet cherries and one had red sweet cherries. The yellow ones were at least 30 feet high, which meant we couldn’t actually pick most of the cherries unless the local fire department were inclined to lend us a ladder truck. We’ve never succeeded on that front. We managed to make off with 7-10 gallons of yellow cherries each season despite the limitation.
A few years ago, one of the yellows was cut down due to illness. The other one muct be almost 40 feet by now, or maybe I am just really bad at estimating height. This past year, the parking lot owners pruned off some of the lower branches, and now even when with a tall ladder and a tall Dekalb, it’s hard to get many cherries. He got maybe a quart today, while I picked none — there was no way I could reach any of them from either ladder we brought.
The red cherry tree treated us more kindly. We ended up with about 3 gallons, the most we’ve ever gotten from it. It’s always been much shorter than the yellow trees — 15 to 20 feet at most. Perhaps the pruning and felling of the yellow cherries has benefitted it, allowing it to get more light, and hence more fruit.
In celebration of the first cherry harvest of the year, I thought I’d share a cherry wine recipe.
This recipe makes about a gallon of dry cherry wine. If you prefer something sweeter, use 3 or 4 pounds of sugar rather than 2.
The optional ingredients will improve your wine, but aren’t strictly necessary for the fermentation process. Yeast nutrient is an insurance policy against a “stuck” fermentation, when yeast run out of energy and stop converting sugar to alcohol. They can also help prevent sulfur spoilage, which is exactly what it sounds like — your wine goes bad and smells like rotten eggs.
Pectic enzyme helps give the wine a bright, clear coloration. Without pectic enzyme, pectin remains suspended in the wine and gives it a cloudy appearance. I don’t mind that look, but it’s not for everybody.
Tannins and acids help give the wine body and improve the mouth feel. Acids also help with the fermentation process. Tartaric acid is the same thing as cream of tartar.
For more about winemaking, including how to sterilize equipment, see my basic winemaking post.
Makes one gallon
- 6-8 pounds cherries, cleaned and destemmed
- 2 pounds white sugar
- 7 pints (14 cups) water
- package of wine, port or champagne yeast
- 1 teaspoon yeast nutrient (optional)
- 1 tsp pectic enzyme (optional)
- 1 teaspoon tartaric acidor citric acid(optional)
- 1/4 teaspoon tannin(optional)
- Place the cherries in a nonporous, nonreactive container (such as an enamel or stainless steel pot). Crush or squeeze them to break the skins, but not the pits.
- Bring the water to a boil and pour it over the cherries. Steep until cool, then cover and refrigerate for two days.
- Strain mixture through a sieve or cloth, squeezing out excess liquid.
- Bring strained juice to a boil in an enameled or stainless steel pot, remove from heat, and stir in the sugar and any optional ingredients, but do not add yeast.
- Cool to lukewarm. Remove a bit of the juice into a glass, stir in the yeast and let sit 10 minutes or so, until yeast is dissolved.
- Pour this into a sanitized crock, glass jug or carboy with the rest of the juice. Cover with several layers of plastic wrap secured with rubberbands or a tight-fitting lid with an airlock.
- Let sit for two weeks in a cool and dark place (basements are ideal), until vigorous bubbling stops and a thick layer of yeast covers the bottom of the vessel.
- Use a sterilized siphon or funnel to transfer into another sterilized carboy; compost the dregs. Cover the carboy with several layers of plastic wrap secured with rubber bands or a tight-fitting lid with an airlock.
- Let sit for two months in a cool and dark place, until there is no more activity in the wine. (The liquid is still, there is no bubbling or churning, and no new yeast is accumulating on the bottom of the vessel. When you tap it, no bubbles should form and rise to the top.)
- Add campden tablets (sodium metabisulfite)
(follow manufacturer’s instructions for proportions) and let sit ten days. This is optional, but very much recommended, especially if you are making a sweet wine. It prevents the fermentation from starting up again after you’ve bottled the wine — a good insurance policy against exploding wine bottles.
- Use a sterilized siphon or funnel to transfer into sterilized bottles.
- Store in a cool, dark place for five to 12 months before serving. It’s up to your taste when it’s ready to drink, but cherry wine tends to improve with age.