Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Cherries of Summer

I wrote in my last blog post that one of my favorite vegetables is the artichoke, and it has a lot to do with many years spent of the left coast. Along with the artichoke, there was a fruit I learned to savor as well...a fruit with a very short (local) season and one that I'll never tire of. This is a fruit that I've eaten too much of at one time, or eaten too many too quickly and gotten a bit of a tummy ache from. That'd be my favorite fruit, pictured above...the cherry.

There was a place I used to stop off at driving home from work, back when I had a bit of a career in Silicon Valley. On El Camino Real in Sunnyvale, CA, CJ Olsen's cherry stand is nirvana for cherry lovers. You see, Silicon Valley was the place where once upon a time lots and lots of cherries (and apricots) were grown and shipped all over. It wasn't called the Valley of the Heart's Delight for no reason; of course now there's not much growing there (except silicon), but Olsen's survives. I remember some of their cherries being as big as plums - they'd ship the best specimens off to Japan, where they often sold for $10 a piece.

Cherries come in lots of varieties (thanks, wiki): there are sweets and tarts with varietal names like Bing, Lambert, Burlat, Rainier and Royal Ann; Windsor, Montmorency, Morello, Black Tartarian, Napolean, Schmidt and plenty more. Most of the great sweet cherries (my favorites are Bings and Rainiers) are grown on the west coast; sour cherries are a more eastern thing, and they're the ones famously used in cherry pies.

What's cool about cherries is that they grow here, in New York, almost as well as they grow out west. And even though I eat as many Bings and Rainiers from the west coast as is humanly possible, I also look forward to our local cherry season (though I'm kinda worried about this year's crop - so much rain, and when you see a cherry with a split down it, that's what happened), which should be any day now. Here's what it looked like at the farmer's market last year...

That's some mighty fine cherries right there. Get 'em while you can, because the season goes by in 3 or 4 weeks...but don't forget, cherries also give a bit of a thrill with their spectacular display of flowers in early spring.

So, what to do with the bounty? Besides eating as many of those sweet things as possible, there's the cherry pie. Not a bad idea, and if you can make a good one, people will swoon - I may give it a try this year, since I've been working on my tart doughs. There's clafoutis, the fab French dessert, basically cherries covered with a custard and baked like a large pancake - served warm or at room temp and you've just saved on that flight to Paris.

For me, I don't like a heck of a lot to muck up the flavor of the cherry. So I decided upon a sour cherry soup, just the ticket to pure Montmorency cherry flavor, and really easy. And a Bing cherry sorbet - how bad could that be? To provide a counterpoint to the fruity goodness, I whipped up a batch of vanilla ice cream. Summer never tasted this good - but it goes by quickly, so grab those cherries now.

Bing Cherry Sorbet
(Adapted from David Lebovitz's The Perfect Scoop)

2 lbs sweet cherries - then pit 'em
3/4 cup sugar (might be a little more, depending on sweetness of cherries)
1 cup water
1 T lemon juice
2 T kirsch or (gasp) vodka or other booze - optional

Cook everything (except the booze) in a saucepan for 10 -15 minutes, till the cherries are very soft. Cool, and then puree in a blender. Add booze. Chill overnight then freeze.


  1. Got my first local sour cherries of the season yesterday. I plan on making a sauce for some pan-seared duck breasts tonight. I love cherries!

  2. Hey doc - I saw your post! I'll be checking out the green market tomorrow and keeping my fingers crossed. What's better than duck and cherries?

  3. i got my 3 little girls eating cherries, which makes for some good laughs, especially since the twins have not quite nailed the whole pit thing. no one has choked yet. the cherries this year have been amazing. we've got this little farmers market in mill valley every tuesday...i think about you dude when i swing by there on the way home from work. apricots too. still a tad early for the big wave of stonefruits....but pretty soon.

  4. Nice, dr. popper.

    You could always buy one of those cherry pitters pictured in that top photo.

  5. We're having a bumper cherry crop here in Eye-talia. I've been making cherry everything and I totally have cherry pitter lust.
    Just FYI we marinated 2 different batches of cherries in Maraschino.... first batch a little yellowish cherry and it came out great, waiting on a second batch of big dark Bing cherries.

  6. Just plain Maraschino, Jude? Or do you sweeten it even more?