A farmer in New York’s Hudson Valley once told me of sour cherries, “When you hear fireworks, you’d better come running. They won’t be here long after!” Memorable advice that has guided me as a seasonal reminder of when the cherries will ripen.
But the unseasonably cold and wet spring here in Oregon pushed back the season so that now, a month later, we are still seeing sour cherries in the market, much to my delight. But not for long, much to my dismay. Even now, as I post this, I wonder if I will be lucky enough to get another flat of sour cherries this weekend, and wish I had had the time and forethought to get more than I did last weekend! Sigh, at least I take comfort in knowing that, like the fireworks, there will be sour cherries to look forward to every summer.
Sour cherries may not sound particularly inviting to some – does calling them tart cherry or pie cherry make them more appealing? Ayers Creek Farmer Anthony Boutard prefers to call them what they are – be they Montmorency or Hungarian morellos. In a recent newsletter from Ayers Creek, he says this of his cherry varieties, “The Hungarian morellos are a dark mahogany cherry with red juice. They have rich flavor and are slightly less acidic than Montmorency. These cherries originated in the area around Lake Balaton, a large lake on the Danube River system. They were selected by Amy Iezzoni, a professor at Michigan State University. We grow a trio of varieties which include Jubileum, Balaton and Danube.” In another newsletter, he states, “We harvest them (Montmorency cherries) when they are sweet enough to use as a table fruit.” True.
Last weekend, I took home flats of Ayers Creek cherries from the Hillsdale Farmers Market. The Hungarian morellos were pitted and jarred with Hennessy and sugar to macerate. In a few months, I’ll be sipping cherry cognac and hopefully eating bon bons of chocolate-covered brandied cherries…that’s the plan, anyway! I also put up several jars of pitted morello cherries in almond syrup. I didn’t use almonds, but instead took advantage of the natural almond flavor found in the fruits’ pits. The cherries are pitted, then the pits tied in a sachet (cheesecloth can be used, but I prefer a jelly bag, since there are no loose threads to contend with), then whacked mercilessly with a rolling pin to crack them. The sachet de pits is then submerged in the sugar and water mixture as it cooks and the almond flavor infuses the syrup. Over the winter, these cherries will make their way into tarts, cakes, strudel, and perhaps ice cream. The syrup will be used as a dessert sauce, ice cream topping, or cocktail ingredient.
The ruby-gem colored, glistening Montmorency were made into a pie, and also many jars of Cherry Mostarda. Mostarda, that magical Italian mustard-fruit condiment, is one of my favorite preserves to make. Not only is it delicious and versatile, pairing with roast & grilled meats (try it as a basting mop when grilling), cheeses, salami sandwiches, and sausages, but it can be made with so many fruits as they come into season. The spring rhubarb made a particularly good mostarda that is now ready, having sat for a couple of months to mature (the mustard flavor blooms and the sweetness tempers with time).
As for the sweets, Rainiers may be finished, but there are slightly smaller golden Royal Anne cherries & juicy sweet Sandra Rose, a large dark cherry, to be found at the Cherry Country booth at the Portland & Hillsdale Farmers Markets this weekend. Both make a lovely pickle – attractive whole cherries jarred in a simple vinegar brine. And a delightful cherry mojito. But maybe best of all, sweet cherries are a joy to eat out of hand on a warm summer day!
based on a recipe by Chef Beth Maxey of Feast,
with slight edits to suit the fruit and my tastes
makes 1 pint
scales up perfectly well, but avoid cooking more than 8 cups of fruit at a time for best results
2 cups pitted sour cherries
1 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
2 1/2 tsp. Colman’s Dry Mustard
pinch of salt
rounded 1/4 tsp. whole black peppercorns
2 tsp. whole mustard seeds (I use a combination of brown and yellow seeds, but feel free to use either or both, or black mustard seeds in your mostarda)
Add just enough cold water to the mustard powder to make a thin paste and add it, along with the pinch of salt, to the simmering fruit. Carefully and thoroughly skim the impurities from the mostarda as it cooks and thickens (the scum or foam that rises to the surface). Once the fruit has given off most of its impurities, and they have been skimmed away, add the black peppercorns and mustard seeds. Continue to cook until the mixture has thickened (a reference would be the consistency of hot homemade cranberry sauce).
Taste the mostarda and adjust seasonings with more salt, vinegar, or mustard. If the fruit is very tart, add a little more sugar and cook for several more minutes, until the sugar has dissolved and cooked into the mixture.
If you would like to put up your mostarda for use within the year, ladle it into hot sterilized jars and process in a boiling waterbath. Otherwise, fill sterilized pint jars with cooled mostarda and store in the refrigerator for up to 3 months. The flavors will mature in about a month, but it can be eaten right away if desired.
4 pounds dark sour cherries
4 cups sugar
Pit the cherries as neatly as possible, saving the pits. Strain the pits, letting the juice run into a preserving pan (see pan description in above mostarda recipe). Add to the pan the sugar and 2 quarts of water. Stir to dissolve the sugar. Tie the pits in a cheesecloth sachet or jelly bag. Whack the parcel of pits with a rolling pin to crack the pits. You can also use a mallet or meat pounder. Add the bag of cracked pits to the sugar syrup and bring to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes, until the syrup has reduced slightly.
Add the cherries to the syrup and return just to a boil (this will take several minutes). Remove the cherries with a spider or slotted spoon to a strainer set over a bowl. Continue to boil the syrup until it has thickened slightly, adding the liquid in the bowl as it accumulates (this will take 10 minutes or more).
Add the cherries back to the thickened syrup, then pack the cherries and syrup into hot sterilized quart jars. Alternatively, pack the drained cherries into the jars and pour the hot syrup over them. Carefully wipe the jar rims and seal them with flat lids and screw bands. Process the jars of cherries in a boiling water bath for 20 minutes. Let the jars cool completely before checking the seals and storing.
Use a dark cherry for this recipe. They are more beautiful left whole, with the stem intact and trimmed to 1/2 inch. Serve them this way on cookie or petit four plates, or as a dessert garnish. Or simply offer a little dish of them at the end of the meal with strong black coffee. They are easier, however, to use for ice cream, souffles, and baking, if they are pitted before sousing. Dipped in bittersweet chocolate, either pitted or unpitted cherries are a welcome treat.
For each pound of cherries, mix 2 cups of the best brandy you can afford or kirsch with 1/2 cup granulated sugar. For sour cherries, use 3/4 cup sugar per pound. Put the cherries in quart jars with tight fitting lids. Pour the brandy mixture over the fruit. If you’d like, add a cinnamon stick &/or a few blades of mace to the jar. Cover tightly. Keep the jar in a cool place (such as the cellar). Each day for a week, turn the jar upside down, then back upright, to dissolve all the sugar crystals. Store for at least 1 month before using.
adapted from Chez Panisse Fruit by Alice Waters
makes 8 pints
Really, any cherry can be pickled, sour or sweet. I love the look and color of pickled Rainier or Royal Anne cherries. Just be sure to use unblemished cherries, that are not overripe, for this recipe. Serve the pickled cherries alongside charcuterie, or with assertive cheeses.
2 pounds cherries
1 1/2 cups sugar
4 1/4 cups white wine vinegar
Rinse, dry, and pick over the cherries. Trim the stems down to 1/2 inch.
Clean and sterilize 8 pint-sized canning jars.
Combine the sugar, vinegar, cloves, and peppercorns in a non-reactive saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Pack the cherries into the canning jars. Pour the hot pickling liquid over the cherries, seal the jars, and process in a boiling waterbath for 10 minutes. Allow the pickles to mellow for 2 months before enjoying. After opening the jars, the cherries will keep refrigerated for a year.
The almond frangipane mixture keeps refrigerated for 1 week, or can be frozen, then thawed and baked.
1/2 cup unsalted butter
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 Tbsp. kirsch or cherry-infused brandy
2 tsp. vanilla extract
1 cup toasted, ground almonds
1/2 tsp. salt
1 Tbsp. flour
1 pint sweet cherries,
such as bing, Sandra Rose, or lapin, pitted
Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees F.
Using a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the egg and mix until incorporated. Beat in the kirsch & vanilla extract. Combine the nuts, salt, and flour. Add them to the mixture, blending until smooth. Chill the frangipane in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Fill a 10-inch tart shell with the almond frangipane. Top with cherries, gently pressing them down so that they are embedded slightly in the frangipane. Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out nearly clean.