It’s almost time for my favorite fruit, cherries. If Paul Revere had been a chef, he might have jumped on his horse in mid-May and shouted something like, “The cherries are coming!” Cherry season is too short and sweet to not get excited about. For approximately 10 weeks, late May through early August, you can find this versatile and delicious fruit at its peak. Some are sweet — Bing and Royal Ann — for recipes that do not require cooking. Montmorency and English Morello are sour and excellent for pies, cobblers and jams. Cherries freeze well, without needing to be blanched or having the pits removed, and they are fast cooking, usually in three to five minutes. I love discovering new ways to use cherries in my cooking. That is, if I can resist eating all of them, right out of the container, before I get them home.
Cherry compote with balsamic vinegar
This is especially good for those early-season cherries that taste under-ripe. Balsamic vinegar brings out the flavor of cherries in an amazing way. The pits are left in, which saves time, but remember to tell your diners that the pits are still there. Recipe by Alice Waters in “Great Food Without Fuss”; makes 6 servings.
2 pounds black cherries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon kirsch
2 to 3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
Put cherries in a colander, pick out any bad ones, rinse and stem. Put them in single layer in a heavy-bottomed noncorroding saute pan. Cook in batches if you don’t have a pan big enough to hold them in a single layer. Sprinkle fruit with the sugar; shake pan over high heat for about 5 minutes or until sugar melts and cherries feel a little soft when you press them. (Sugar will make little white crystals on the cherries before it melts.) Sprinkle cherries with the kirsch and vinegar; shake about 30 seconds longer. Scrape cherries, with their juice, into a container and chill or cool to room temperature. Let stand at least an hour or two. Serve in sorbet glasses or old-fashioned round champagne glasses, with small cookies on the side if desired.
Warm chocolate-cherry crumble
The combination of sweet, juicy cherries and bittersweet chocolate is irresistible. Recipe from “Chef On A Shoestring” edited by Andrew Friedman.
20 fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
2 tablespoons honey
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 ounce bittersweet chocolate, coarsely chopped
2 cups flour
1 1/4 cups sugar
8 ounces unsalted butter
2 tablespoons ground cinnamon
Preheat oven to 350 F. Mix cherries, honey, zest and chocolate in a bowl. Distribute evenly in the bottom of a 6- to 8-inch pie or quiche dish. Combine flour, sugar, butter, and cinnamon until completely blended and beginning to form small balls. Break into small pieces; sprinkle evenly over the top of the cherry mixture. Bake 20 minutes; remove from oven and serve warm.
This is an Italian concoction that can be used as a marinade, or reduced and used as a sauce for game, pork or chicken. Fresh fruit is best, but you can also use some frozen fruits if needed. Recipe in “From the Earth to the Table” by John Ash; makes about 3 cups.
1 cup red wine vinegar
1 cup dry red wine, such as Zinfandel
1 1/2 cups sugar
1/8 teaspoon black mustard seed
2 medium strips lemon zest
1 cinnamon stick
3 pints mixed raspberries, blueberries and pitted cherries, well mashed
In a medium saucepan, combine vinegar, wine, sugar, mustard seed, lemon zest and cinnamon stick; bring to a boil. Remove from heat and immediately stir in the fruit. Cool. Use or store, covered and refrigerated, as long as needed.
This is almost too easy for something that tastes so good. It can even be made ahead and frozen. Recipe from “Preserving Summer’s Bounty” by Rodale Press; makes 1 pie.
3 cups pitted sour cherries
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Coat a 9-inch pie plate with nonstick spray or butter bottom and sides. Add cherries. Dissolve cornstarch in the maple syrup and pour over cherries. In a small bowl, combine oats and oil. Sprinkle over cherries. Bake at 350 for about 40 minutes or until lightly browned.
To freeze: Bake as above, cool, and wrap with foil. Freeze. To use, bake unthawed and uncovered at 350 for 30 to 40 minutes or until warm.