Cherry Bounce. (Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post)

There was an upside to those harsh days of February and March. Fruit trees respond to a cold winter and a long, slow spring with enthusiastic blossoming and fruiting; by early April, mid-Atlantic orchardists already were hinting at a great harvest.

That means you’ll start to see cherries, apricots and peaches appearing in the market any day now, abundant and just plain beautiful. Stone fruits make delicious jams, sensational pie fillings, sweet and spicy chutneys and complex salsas. It’s their season, and what a season it is.

All cherries have a firm, edible and delicious skin (which is why dried cherries are so intensely flavored.) Cherries are either sweet or tart. The sweet types range from the deep-purplish Bing to the yellow-rose Rainier; they all make spectacular salsas or chutneys and are terrific eaten out of hand. The tart cherries — Montmorency is the most common local variety — make wonderful jams and pie fillings, too. Tart cherries , also known as pie cherries, are very tender and do not ship or hold, so they are seldom seen in grocery stores and are more readily available at farmers markets and orchards.

The chore of pitting cherries is not for sissies. Don’t wear your favorite T-shirt. Place a few layers of newspaper over the table and enlist help. Cherry-pitting tools are useful but no less messy than using a paper clip, my preferred implement.

After making pies and jam, salsas and chutneys, I find there are always enough cherries remaining to mix up Martha Washington’s recipe for the first president’s favorite tipple. Cherry bounce is a potent combination of cherries, sugar and booze. George might have preferred brandy as the spirited ingredient, but bourbon is what you’ll find in mine.

Wondering about the name? David Wondrich, author of “Imbibe!,” says, “In 18th century dictionaries, one of the meanings of ‘bounce’ is a sharp blow, and there’s evidence that, in this case, it’s being used much as we might say ‘shot.’ ”

Apricot varieties can be tart or sweet. Their skins might be smooth or a little fuzzy. For jam making, slightly underripe fruit retains its shape when cooked, resulting in chunky preserves. Some apricots, particularly the ones with a fragile, tender skin, simply dissolve into a smooth butter. Either is delicious on a biscuit. Or try a savory approach by adding mustard and fresh herbs to a sauce that complements pork or chicken.

Texas and Georgia are known for their peaches, but the Mid-Atlantic also has bragging rights for the fruit: yellow or white, donut or classic in shape. Our peach season is long and generous, starting with cling (clinging to the pit) and ending with freestone. I count on the former for jams and the latter for whole or sliced peaches in syrup or fresh peachsicles.

The frozen, sugared peach slices I put up capture the essence of biting into the juicy fruit, a summer highlight that can be enjoyed in wintry, peach-free months. Use freestone peaches for pretty slices, and slide them onto a skewer for easy storing and snacking. But don’t miss the chance to pile those slices into a pie crust as well.

Fresh Peachsicles. (Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post)

There are other stone fruits that deserve attention, but only some of them work well for preserving. Donut peaches are best for snacking. (The skin-to-fruit ratio and required peeling yields too little fruit for the effort.) Don’t ignore the nectarine; blessed with tender skin and tart, flavorful flesh in both yellow and white varieties, it offers all the benefits of the peach without the necessary peeling. Substitute nectarines in any of the accompanying recipes.

For the most part, early-season plums are too watery for successful preservng. Eat those out of hand. Late-season Damson, Quetsch or other deep purple, ovoid plums are perfect for jams, infusions (like slivovitz) and sauces. The aprium and other plum hybrids tend to carry the high water content of their plum parentage and are less functional in the preserving kitchen; they are perfect in tarts and crumbles, so bake away.

Whatever fruit you decide to preserve, always sample it before you buy it in quantity. Mushy, mealy fruit makes mushy, mealy preserves.

As the experts say, we are in for a great stone-fruit season and, hence, a perfect opportunity to work your DIY preserving chops. After all, those bitter-cold days are not as far off as you think.

Barrow is the author of “Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s Practical Pantry: Recipes and Techniques for Year-Round Preserving” (W.W. Norton, 2014). She blogs at She will join Wednesday’s Free Range chat at


Cherry Bounce

(Dixie D. Vereen for The Washington Post)

Apricot Jam

Fresh Peachsicles