A Handful of Sour Cherries

My sour cherry tree is a Morello variety grown as an espalier. Espaliers are designed to grow flat against a wall in a symmetrical geometric shape – at least that is the theory. At best, my Morello tree resembles a fan-shape, crowded between the damson plum and the quince, ruthlessly pruned to keep it in some semblance of order. This is an ancient technique of growing fruit trees and is well suited to small gardens. However, the down side is its reduced productivity – smaller crops than normal trees. Added to that is the tendency for fruit trees to have bumper years followed by lean years.

Predictably, since last year was a bumper crop for my Morellos, this year’s harvest consisted of a handful of sour cherries. Even then, I had to be quick to collect them as soon as they turned bright red to outwit the cherry thieving magpies. I know when they’ve been at the tree. They leave the evidence – the skeletal pits attached to the stem, juicy flesh pecked away, still hanging on the tree.

I had a choice with this (pitiful) small crop: one tiny jar of jam or come up with something else… I came up with something else where a little goes a long way.


Double Cherry Chutney
The flavours of this chutney were influenced by traditional Cumberland sauce. And, as with Cumberland sauce, it is delicious with game – particularly duck and venison. It can be refrigerated up to a few weeks, or can be preserved in a vacuum sealed canning jar as you would other jams and pickles.

Makes about 1 (US) pint

  • 400g to 450g sour Morello cherries (yielding approximately 1 cup pitted)
  • 50g dried cherries
  • 2 fluid oz. (1/4 cup) port
  • 10 fluid oz. (1-1/4 cups) red wine vinegar
  • 85g dark brown sugar
  • 2 large shallots or 1 small onion
  • zest of 1 lemon
  • 3cm cubed piece of fresh ginger (approximately 1 Tablespoon coarsely grated)
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried English mustard

Roughly chop the dried cherries and put them in a small bowl. Heat the port until just before boiling point and pour over the dried fruit. Let it soak and absorb the liquid it cools.


Meanwhile, clean and pit the cherries. Cut in half. Set these aside, retaining as much of the juice as possible.


Finely chop the shallots or onion, coarsely grate the ginger and zest the lemon. Finely chop the zest.


Place these in a non-reactive saucepan along with the sugar, vinegar, mustard and the soaked dried cherries with any port not absorbed. Add half the pitted cherries, reserving the rest for later. Bring to a boil, lower the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add the remaining pitted cherries and their juices. Simmer for 15 to 20 minutes until these cherries are cooked and the sauce has thickened slightly. It will thicken more when cooled.


Preserve by canning in the usual way or put into a container and refrigerate up to 2 weeks. I canned mine in two half pint jars. As with most chutneys, the flavour will mellow and improve by resting – just in time for game season in the autumn.



    • Sorry about your gooseberries. The birds usually leave mine alone. I thought it was the thorns that protected them, as I generally get scratched up when harvesting. Hmm…gooseberry sauce might also go well with game.


  1. Ah, it must be a sad morning, when a wander to the cherry tree reveals just skeletal remains! That chutney sounds so interesting, have never thought of using cherries for chutney before.


    • Those darn birds! I often hear them cackling. However, I’m usually quick enough off the mark to harvest the majority of cherries. I had a taste of the chutney before bottling it – very nice and will only mellow and improve by the time game comes into season.


    • You would be puckering if you ate these cherries off the tree! They are sour, but oh, so good when cooked. I made pots of luscious cherry jam last year. Yum! I think this chutney will also be a keeper.


    • It is very pretty and red, but I suspect it will get a bit darker as it ages in the jar. I’m looking forward to a nice venison steak with this chutney on the side.


  2. Your sour cherry chutney looks very inviting.
    Having a sour cherry tree in ones backyard is a dream of every Persian/Iranian. We make varieties of things with them including drinks, preserves and mixed rice. I will be posting a mixed rice recipe soon. The mixed rice should be made with fresh sour cherry, but since I can not obtain any, I am going to use the preserved ones.


    • I knew of the sour cherry drink – not so surprisingly since it was quite common in Greece, who got it from the Ottomans, who in turn got it from the Persians. Somewhere I read that historically Persian cuisine was adopted by the Ottomans as court food – haute cuisine of the Empire – and spread to the areas under their control. The rice and sour cherry dish sounds intriguing and I’ll look out for it when you post.


  3. Gorgeous photos Deb. I love the tart sweetness of Cumberland sauce so I imagine the morello cherries worked really well. I love birds, but they can be pests!


    • I love watching birds – a habit we got in to when our son was young. we used to participate in a backyard bird watching scheme set up by the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds (RSPB). Magpies are so beautiful, but vicious and destructive. I also hate their cackling. However, we have a lovely sounding song thrush somewhere in the vicinity that makes up for the magpies. The chutney tasted good just out of the pot, but I’m sure it will improve over time. Waiting for autumn and venison steaks!


      • Do you know that Aussie magpies have an incredibly melodious warble and a far gentler nature than yours, same but different bird. We have a shrike thrush at our coastal house whose beautiful song changes with the seasons, I love to hear it, it’s so beautiful it never fails to make me stop, listen and enjoy.


  4. I’ve never seen a chutney recipe that called for port, so this is one I’ll have to try. We find lots of sour cherry products, including jam, in the Russian as well as Armenian markets in Boston.


    • The port is integral to Cumberland sauce and since I took my inspiration for this chutney from that classic, it was a foregone conclusion that it would contain port. Sour cherries are used quite a lot in cuisines of the Middle East and in Eastern Europe. I love sour cherry jam, but I didn’t really have enough this year. Perhaps next?


  5. Your double cherry chutney looks absolutely beautiful. Can just imagine that served with duck. lovely photographs too – especially that one with the cherries and leaves and pits.


    • Thanks! The cherry chutney tasted very good when just made and I’m hopi g that it will mellow a bit further as it ages – as most chutneys do. The idea for the photo just popped into my head when I was splitting and stoning them.


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