I got a call around 8:00 on the Fourth of July. It was Dick Hart, the fruit lady’s husband, asking if I wanted to come pick cherries. In my sour-cherry-obsessed world, this is what is known as a rhetorical question (of course I want to pick!). He told me that he and his wife had picked about 8 quarts the night before, pitted, and frozen them. Best to get them before the birds carried them all away (he hadn’t put up a net this year). Why didn’t I come over around 9:30? Whatever you say.
An already perfect Fourth had become more perfect still. Arriving at the farm, we had the usual discussion on the treacherous subject of how much I wanted. I had learned well that underbidding was safest. A quart was expected, three would be seen as pushy. Would two quarts be all right? As it turned out, yes and then some. While dropping my pickings into my can on a string, Dick brought me some quart baskets, and encouraged me to pile them high. I ended up with about 5 pounds, or two and half quarts, plus an overflowing cup of currants, for $13.00.
An embarrassment of riches is its own kind of quandary. What to make? It was hot, hot, hot, not the best day for preserving, but I would have to be a fool not to make my favorite sour cherry preserves, which sustain me through the winter with not only memories of summer in Little Compton but also a taste pleasure, spooned over good vanilla ice cream, that is a kind of happiness. They took forever to gel in that relentless humidity, but they eventually did, and they are wonderful. I also decided to make the other sour-cherry preserve that I really like to have on hand, some pickled sweet-sour cherries; they are marinating away as we speak, the vinegar having been poured off and bottled. I had been fortunate enough to have had a goodly share of cherry pie, thanks primarily to Anne, over several days, so thought I’d do something different. I settled on a sour cherry upside-down cake, a kind of experiment. It came out pretty well.
That about did it for my pickings. But when I was leaving the Hart Farm that day, Mr. Hart suggested that there might be more—that they would see how they went after he and his wife and some other unnamed person got some, and that we might divide up what remained. When the call comes, I’ll be ready.
Sour Cherry Upside-Down Cake
Upside-down cake is best served while it is still warm from the oven. It can be reheated briefly in the microwave if there is any left over. You can, of course, make this with almost any other fruit. Serves 9 (squares) or 8 (wedges).
3 T unsalted butter
¾ cup firmly packed light brown sugar
¼ tea cardamom
Generous pint of pitted sour cherries
For the cake
Heavy cream or ice cream for serving
Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Lightly spray an 8” square or 9” cake pan with Pam. Place the 3 T butter, the brown sugar, and the cardamom in the pan on the stove. Melt, stirring together, until the mixture just bubbles. Remove from the heat. While it cools, make the cake batter.
Cream the butter, lard, and sugar; beat in the eggs and vanilla with a wooden spoon. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and add to the creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk, beginning and ending with the flour mixture and stirring until just combined.
Arrange the cherries, pitted side up (good side down) very close together on the caramel (it may be firm—that is OK). If you use a square pan, arrange them all around the outside edges, then work your way into the center in smaller squares; if you use a round pan, arrange them in concentric circles.
Scrape the batter over the cherries, smoothing it gently and evenly into the corners and along the surface. Bake for about 45 minutes. It will be golden brown; the sides will begin to pull away from the pan; and the center will spring back to your touch. Remove and cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes.
Cover the pan with a platter or plate larger than pan and, grasping both firmly with potholders or a towel, turn over quickly and confidently. Serve immediately with good, unhomogenized heavy cream poured over, or with vanilla ice cream.