These jam jars are Southern, and sweet, and so delicious. Jam jars make me think of all the summers of my life. Tiptoeing barefoot through my backyard with an empty quart jar in one hand and a screw-top lid in the other pursuing those big black bumblebees that buzzed around the azaleas along our fence line. I recall punching air holes in the lid with a tenpenny nail and the heel of my sneaker. Five in one jar was my record, and to my knowledge, still stands. And I remember sipping sweet tea out of a Mason jar on the front steps waiting for momma to call me for supper. And the endless row of colorful glistening jars lining the pantry shelf full of good things from the garden. In the South, delicious things come in jam jars and this little recipe is one of them.
“Easy” understates the simplicity of this dessert. Baking vanilla pound cake is a breeze, but even that can be store-bought if you’re not up to it. Sourcing fresh blueberries and black cherries are key and they should be readily available from your produce market in the summer.
Make this summer dessert and put some sweet memories away in a jar.
Prep time: 45 minutes
Cooking time: 90 minutes
For this dessert, the perfect size is the pint (16 ounce) jars with lids. My daughter Lauren helped with this dessert by removing all the cherry seeds. It’s easy but messy, and she suggests wearing plastic gloves to prevent staining your hands. Feel free to add a splash of dark rum to each dessert if you are in a festive mood.
For the cherry jam:
3 cups ripe black cherries
2 tablespoons fresh-squeezed lemon juice
2 cups caster sugar
1 tablespoon honey
1 envelope powdered pectin
Remove 6 whole cherries with stems and place in a bowl to be used later for garnish.
With the remaining cherries, remove the stems and the seeds. In a large saucepan on medium heat, place the stemmed and seeded cherries. Add the lemon juice and sugar and bring to a boil. While stirring, add the honey and the pectin and reduce the heat to simmer. With a potato masher or the back of a spoon, mash the cherries until they break apart into rough chunks of different sizes. Turn off the heat once the mixture thickens, about 3 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to assemble.
For the vanilla pound cake:
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups sugar
2 ½ cups softened butter
8 large eggs
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350º F.
In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour. Add the baking powder and salt and stir to combine.
In a large mixing bowl, add the sugar and 2 cups softened butter. With a hand mixer on medium speed, beat the mixture until combined and smooth in texture. While continuing to mix on low speed, add the eggs and increase the speed as they incorporate. Add the vanilla and resume beating until mixed.
Scrape the bowl down and add the dry ingredients. On low speed, resume beating until fully combined.
With the remaining 1/2 cup of softened butter, grease the inside of two standard size loaf pans. Pour the mixture evenly into each and place in the oven. Lower the oven temperature to 325º F and cook for 40 minutes. Check on the cakes and cover with foil to prevent browning, if needed. Continue baking another 20 minutes. After 1 hour, remove the foil and bake until completely done and a bamboo skewer comes out clean. Remove the pans and let cool. Once cool, carefully remove from the pans.
For the whipped cream:
4 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled
2 tablespoons vanilla extract
8 tablespoons caster sugar
1 tablespoon orange zest
Place a large stainless steel mixing bowl in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Remove the bowl and add the cream and vanilla. With a handheld mixer on medium speed, begin beating the cream. Once the cream begins to thicken, slowly add the sugar while continuing to mix. As peaks begin to form, add the orange zest. Continue mixing until fully whipped. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator until ready to use.
For the assembly:
2 cups fresh blueberries
6 sprigs mint
Place six clean pint jars with lids on a large tray. Place a tablespoon of cherry jam in the bottom of each jar.
Move the two loaves of cake to a cutting board. Cut a 1-inch slice of cake and using one of the jar lids, press out a circle of cake. Continue cutting out cake from both loaves until you have rounds plus additional remaining pieces.
Add a circle of cake to each of the jars on top of the cherry jam. Top the cake with a spoonful of whipped cream and add a sprinkling of blueberries. Add another round of cake (or cake pieces) and top with more of the cherry jam. Add more whipped cream and blueberries. Spoon a final topping of whipped cream garnished with a whole cherry and a sprig of mint. Serve immediately.
Alternatively, you can make and assemble these jars stopping short of the final topping of whipped cream and garnish. Simply screw the lids on the jars containing the unfinished desserts and refrigerate until ready to serve. Later, remove the jars and add the final topping of whipped cream along with the cherry and mint garnish.
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