Making nanking cherry jelly is the natural conclusion to picking the cherries. I have found only two reasonable things to do with the tiny jewels - jelly and syrup. They are tart enough that it requires a determined effort to like them fresh (that very tartness makes incredibly delicious jelly) and so small that pitting them would be very unrewarding. But they do make the most wonderful jelly. Ever. And it is so very pretty.
Jelly-making is super simple, a tiny bit boring (stir, stir, stir), usually kind of hot and sticky, and at the end delightfully satisfying. You have to get over the large amount of sugar that goes into a batch but once that hurdle is behind you everything is good. I justify the end product by using my own 'organically grown' and lovingly harvested cherries. I have tried using honey but since the jelling process requires no more than slightly less than half of the sugar can be substituted for honey, it seems a bit silly and I have decided to just throw caution to the winds and use sugar for this. After all, how much jelly does one eat in a day?
I have worked out a system of sorts that works for me when I get the jelly-making urge. In the interest of being 'real' and all I share the photo of my kitchen mid-process - decidedly un-Martha-like. lol. I have learned to measure out the sugar into a bowl, put the snap lids into a pot of boiling water, the clean jars into a 225 degree F oven, and have a good book (or more often a magazine) to read while standing at the stove stirring and waiting for the boil - all before lighting the gas.
After making six batches of jelly and two of syrup yesterday I was hot and tired but so proud of the fruits of my labor. All those jars lined up and glowing like precious rubies. I know I am a bit ridiculous but every year I leave them in the kitchen for a few days just so that I can go admire them now and again throughout the day. Seriously. (I know - I admitted to being ridiculous.)
nanking cherry jelly
6 cups prepared cherry juice*
7 cups sugar
1 package of Certo pectin crystals
In a large heavy pot add the pectin crystals to the cool cherry juice. Stir to dissolve thoroughly. Turn the heat to medium-high and stir frequently until the mixture comes to a boil. (This takes a while usually.) Immediately add the sugar all at once. Stir to dissolve and continue to stir until the mixture comes to a full, rolling boil. When you hit that full boil start timing for one minute. Watch things carefully because it gets pretty crazy and will boil over and make a terrible mess. Remove from the heat and stir a few times over 5 minutes. There will be some foam on top that needs to be spooned off. (there's nothing 'wrong' with it but it messes up the prettiness)
While the jelly is cooking have the lids for the jars on the stove in a pot of water. It needs to boil for about 10 minutes and then you can turn the heat off and let them wait until you need them. Take the hot jars out of the oven after you have skimmed the foam off the jelly. Give the jelly one last quick stir to break the surface tension and very carefully pour into the prepared jars, leaving about a 1/2" of headspace. Immediately place a new snap lid (from the pot of hot water) on each jar. Add the rings and tighten loosely. Process in a hot water bath for 10 minutes.
The little pop as each jar cools and seals is such a happy conclusion.
*To juice the cherries I use a steamer/juicer. It is the niftiest process! and I love mine. But if you don't have that set-up you can easily juice the cleaned cherries by putting them in a large pot, adding 1/2 cup of water and and bringing it to a simmer. Simmer for about 20 minutes or until the cherries have popped and are pink and mushy looking. Drain the whole mess overnight using a fine-mesh colander.