Pie fillings made with clear jel are so easy to preserve and are really great to have during the winter, when none of that delicious fruit is in season anymore. However, if you’ve never used clear jel, it can be a bit weird to use at first. The first time I used it I was canning blueberry pie filling, and the jel was looking pretty strange so I almost threw it away thinking I had screwed up. As a result, I wanted to do a little clear jel tutorial for this post, along with the recipe for cherry pie filling. See the very end of the post also for some additional clear jel notes. This recipe comes from an OSU Extension Service publication on fruit pie filling that you can find by clicking here. In that publication you can also find the recipes for how to do blueberry, apple, peach, or blackberry pie filling, which are very similar.
In the publication, it lists ingredients for 1 and 7 quarts, so here I’ve just listed ingredients for one jar and you can scale up as needed. I do recommend a small batch first though, to see if you like it, because you can then adjust the sugar and clear jel to your liking. When canning with clear jel, you can alter the amount of clear jel and sugar that you use if you decide that it is too much, but don’t alter the amount of lemon juice. The lemon is important both for safety, and for making the clear jel stay the right consistency and remain shelf stable.
3 1/3 cups fresh, pitted sour cherries
1 cup granulated sugar
5 TBSP clear-jel
1 1/3 cups cold water or fruit juice
1 TBSP + 1 tsp bottled lemon juice
1/4 tsp almond extract (optional)
1/8 tsp cinnamon (optional)
For this recipe I actually had sweet cherries, so I reduced the sugar because of that. Again, try one jar first and see what you think. I also omitted the almond. The first step is to pit the cherries, which is pretty much impossible with out one of these, and soak them in an ascorbic acid solution, to prevent browning. The solution is one teaspoon of ascorbic acid per gallon of water, or 6 crushed vitamin c tablets (500 mg).
The first step in preparing the clear jel, is to combine the clear jel powder with the sugar (and cinnamon if you’re using it). Stir to combine.
Add in the water or juice, whichever you are using, and the almond extract. Begin to heat the mixture over medium high heat, stirring constantly. This step, and what you see happening below, is where I almost threw out my first batch. As you can see, parts of it are starting to thicken and it becomes sort of chunky and nasty looking. I thought bits were burning to the bottom, which can happen if you aren’t careful, but don’t panic if this happens and some of it starts to thicken faster in chunks.
Continue to stir and heat until it looks more like the consistency here. It will thicken nicely and consistently and begin to bubble.
Once that consistency is reached, add in the lemon juice and stir for one more minute.
Remove from heat and fold in the cherries.
Fill quart jars, leaving a generous 1 inch head space. Pie filling, especially with clear jel, is one thing where you really do want that full inch or a touch more. With the starch boiling and expanding in the jars, you don’t want pie filling to volcano out of your jars when you remove them from the canner. Wipe the rims, apply the lids, and tighten bands finger tip tight. Process in a boiling water bath canner, covered by at least one inch of water, for 30 minutes, starting the time once a full rolling boil is reached. After the 30 minutes, turn off the heat, remove canner lid, wait 5 minutes and remove the jars to a hot pad or towel. Cool 12-24 hours, remove bands, wipe clean, label and store.
Enjoy delicious pies, tarts, etc. all winter long.
Some additional notes on clear jel.
When purchasing clear-jel, which can often be hard to find, make sure you buy the one made for canning, linked to here. The instant clear jel is a different product and is not the one intended for the high heat of canning. Sometimes local garden stores will carry it seasonally, or your local extension service may carry it (mine does not) but it’s also available online.
What is clear jel anyways? Well, it’s a thickener that is actually made from corn starch, but it’s been modified to withstand the high heat of cooking and canning without becoming thin and runny, or chunky. Corn starch is a great thickener for regular cooking, but it doesn’t really stand up well to canning. Clear jel is also made for use in low pH environments, like the pH of fruits. It also deoesn’t seperate over time, like other starches can. If you don’t like the starchy pie fillings there are a couple other options. You could follow a recipe for canning fruit in syrup, and then drain the syrup to use the fruit in a pie, or freeze the fruit instead. Don’t just try and can a pie filling recipe without it though, it’s not going to turn out well.
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