Nanking Cherry Jelly

nanking cherry jam 1

It’s time. The bushes are heavy with ripe Nanking cherries, and the birds haven’t managed to get at them all – Nankings are those small, brilliant red cherries that grow up against their branches, rather than dangle on stems like a Bing or Evans. A kind neighbour took pity on me picking cherries out by the road and brought me a bag she had picked from her back yard. This is what I call being neighbourly. (And yes, she got the biggest jar on her step this morning.) Nanking cherries are perhaps my favourite foraged fruit – and yet there’s not a lot you can do with them. They’re juicy but pit-heavy; I’ve heard of people pitting theirs to make pies, but can’t imagine what you’d be left with. I’m not sure I’m up to the task.

nanking jelly 1

It’s much easier to dump all you can manage to pick into a big pot, add a bit of water, and coax them to release their juice on the stovetop, mashing with a potato masher to relieve the pits of their flesh before pouring the ruby sludge through a sieve into a bowl. What you wind up with is this brilliant red juice that can be sweetened into syrup to use in cocktails and sparkling water, or simmered with sugar, lemon juice and a bit of pectin (for insurance purposes) to make crazy lovely jelly.

Nanking cherry jelly 5nanking cherry jam 2

A paper muffin liner makes an easy jar label – with a built-in skirt! And I sprayed some snap-on lids with chalkboard spray paint. I’m so Pinterest-y.

I’ve never attempted Nanking cherry jelly without pectin as a backup – mostly, I think, because the bushes are few and far between and I didn’t want to have to find more; also because most recipes out there call for packaged pectin. But this jelly sets up so quickly and easily – and is so solid – that I suspect it would work with less or even no added pectin. And if for some reason it doesn’t set, we already know the syrup could be put to perfectly good use – if not in Prosecco or a G&T, drizzled over pancakes – so that’s hardly a problem.

The problem with most jam and jelly recipes is that they call for a specific measurement of fruit, and when you’re picking your own, you’re not likely to come up with an exact number. Most recipes I found for Nanking cherry jelly called for around 16 cups, and I only wound up at around 13 because a kind neighbour took pity on me picking cherries out by the street and came out to share an enormous bag she had harvested from her back yard. But if you have less, you can still make jelly – just go by the quantity of juice you manage to extract, and add sugar (and pectin) accordingly.

Nanking Cherry Jelly


July 18, 2015


Nanking cherries



lemon juice



1Put as many cherries as you've managed to pick into a large pot, add half a cup to a cup of water (less than a cup if you have under 8 cups of berries; a cup if it's more) and bring to a simmer over medium-high heat. Cook until the cherries soften and start to release their juices, mashing occasionally with a potato masher.

2Strain the mixture through a cheesecloth-lined sieve set over a bowl - or use a jelly bag if you have one. Leave it if you want a clear jelly, or swirl a spoon around in the sieve to coax out as much juice as you can. (This is what I do.) When you get out as much as you can, toss the sludge with all the pits in it, and put the juice back into the pot.

3Measure out about as much sugar as you have juice and set it aside. Add about 1 Tbsp. lemon juice per 2 cups of juice to the juice, and shake in some packaged pectin - I had about 5 cups of juice and used about half a package. (Most recipes call for a packet for 6 cups of juice; you can totally guesstimate here.) Bring the juice-pectin mixture to a full rolling boil, then stir in the sugar. Bring it back to a full, hard boil for 2 full minutes - this means a rolling boil you can't stir down. Remove from the heat and skim any foam off the surface. Ladle into hot, clean jars, seal and cool.

4Makes as much as you like.


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19 comments on “Nanking Cherry Jelly

  1. Frances Vettergreen
    July 18, 2015 at 1:03 am

    I’ve made Nanking cherry jam by putting the cooked fruit through a food mill…same flavour and colour but higher yield because you’re not throwing out most of the fruit! This year I will juice them first then mill the pomace; I can crabapple juice for winter & I bet my household will love cherry juice too. A little apple juice will moisten the pomace and provide pectin without losing the cherry flavour. Rhubarb and cherry is an amazing combination too.

    I wonder if the food mill would work for a pie?

  2. Margaret
    July 20, 2015 at 10:13 am

    Great post Julie! Motivated me to go and pick the first crop of sour cherries from my backyard. A small but mighty batch of 3 jars but oh so delicious. I see some really great peanut butter sandwiches in my future but will hold on for some yummy baking too. 🙂

  3. Carol S-B
    July 20, 2015 at 11:06 am

    Hey, have you found that freezing the cherries whole allows you to extract more juice?
    I often give them a rinse and bag ’em and freeze them, then haul them out in the winter and jelly them then. Because: I have a bit more time; I *want* to heat up my house with simmering fruit; and the smell is reminiscent of a warm summer afternoon. I’ll also toss a handful or so of stemmed & halved underripe crabapples (for pectin) in there. They turn brown in the freezer, sure, but when you’re cooking the whole mass it doesn’t matter.
    But I’m not sure about the pectin, and wonder if the naturally occurring stuff degrades with freezing.

  4. Meg VR
    July 20, 2015 at 2:15 pm

    I LOVE the cupcake liner lid skirt. Silly I know, but what a fun tip. I may come pick some nanking cherries from your house….trade you for raspberries! I bought a tiny Juliette cherry tree a couple of years ago (more like a bush) and this year it has started to produce delicious, ruby red cherries that actually look like real cherries. In Calgary!!

  5. Dorothea Moore
    July 21, 2015 at 9:51 am

    Love your program and your family. I think that your food blog is awesome, I love to cook and using your ideas makes cooking even more exciting. God bless you and yours.

  6. DebbieM
    July 22, 2015 at 12:33 pm

    That is a gorgeous colour to ingest.

  7. Jan W
    July 23, 2015 at 4:08 pm

    Thanks for the recipe Julie! Mine turned out amazing! First time I’ve ever done anything with all those beautiful berries.

  8. Joyce Logue
    August 1, 2015 at 8:59 pm

    Hi, I made nanking cherry jelly some yrs. ago, turned out very well, but now can’t find that receipe. glad to find yours. I planted Nanking cherry bushes,One & then another a couple of years later,as I read you need 2, in my front yard, as I love the blossoms. Well they got so large my husband wanted them out of there, tried to give them away, no one would take them, Bill said ‘toss ’em. I said ‘no way’ We dug them up (they were getting pretty large) & plunked them in a couple of holes @ the back of our garden,4 years ago now & what beautiful red berries! I’ll let you know how this turns out. Thanks.

  9. Sandra D
    July 18, 2017 at 11:42 am

    It was very nice to get a recipe w/o any measurements (although, this time I had around 16 cups)! They’re dripping now and I’ll be making the jars tomorrow.

    I enjoyed your blog piece on Medicine Hat today – wish I knew about those places when my niece and nephew lived there. Might have to take a road trip with DH soon – even if it’s just to stop at the greenhouses. I need me some tomatoes. 🙂

  10. EJ
    July 20, 2017 at 10:26 pm

    I would like to spice the jelly up a bit. Cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and a touch of cayenne maybe? Has anyone tried to add some spice and in what combination?

  11. Debra Gould
    July 25, 2017 at 11:09 pm

    Just used my juicer too make my nanking cherry juice. I use Cranberry juice natural juice for my pectin and it helped BEAUTIFUL! Crabapple juice is amazing too use for nature pectin.

  12. stephanie
    September 22, 2017 at 11:49 am

    My simple Canadian Tire cherry pitter worked fine for this size without loosing flesh, so we were able to make a ton of different recipes this summer with them. 🙂

  13. Vivian
    September 29, 2017 at 8:21 am

    Stephanie, the old straw and pop bottle work really well for pitting cherries too. I find the cherry pitter messy and unreliable.

  14. Vivian
    September 29, 2017 at 8:24 am

    Oh, and the straw method is grand for hulling strawberries too. Punch from the bottom up and capture the green leaf crown and discard.

  15. Erin
    August 22, 2018 at 12:32 pm

    This looks like how I write recipes, haha. But no, this is nice. Last year I preserved and jellied a bunch of sour crabapples and every recipe I used did not produce as much (syrup or jelly) as it said it would, and I even made more syrup and used more apples (by weight) than the recipe called for anyways because we have two apple trees. Was disappointing, but this I can work with! Looking forward to trying this!

    • Julie
      August 27, 2018 at 8:52 pm

      Let me know how it goes!

  16. jim/sharon hoover
    July 18, 2019 at 6:56 pm

    If I needed to supliment the juice I was able to get, what can I use?

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