Sunday, July 24, 2011
That Sour Cherry Season
The sour cherries are gone now—for the second time. It was an odd cherry season, puzzling everyone, including the farmers. You’ve heard me talk about how fleeting a gift sour cherries are, coming in right around the 4th of July for perhaps two weeks, then over until the next year. This year, the cherries, like everything else, were late. They had suffered from the heavy spring rain, and the birds. The bird problem was compounded this year by the tough winter, which had two disastrous effects on the cherries: farmers didn’t bother to net the trees because they didn’t expect much, and the birds were ravenous.
So at conventional-wisdom cherry time, the cherries were sparse and water-laden. Working with the farmer to pick from my favorite old Montmorency tree, he instructed me to pull them off with stems intact—not the normal procedure—so that they wouldn’t absorb yet more water through where the stem had been when they were washed. The cherries had been left on the tree too long—again, the assumption that they were not as good as usual and that, after the winter, they were not ready—but they turned out to be overripe as well as waterlogged from the rain. Down the road at Young Farm, they got only a few boxes off five trees.
Then something strange happened. The weather got nice—dryer, sunnier—and the cherries came back. A second (or maybe just the “real”) crop. These were primarily from the newer and infinitely less desirable hybrid trees, but still: fruit with some of the characteristics of the old sour cherries. For the first time that I can ever recall, there were sour cherries of any kind well past the middle of July.
Naturally the first priority of the season is to make a pie. My first one, made with those waterlogged cherries, was pretty enough, but not so good, at least by the standards of someone in the know. I always make some sort of preserve, perhaps the most special kind you can make (homemade strawberry being a close second as irreplicable on a commercial scale). This year, when I am flying rather than driving back to my academic-year home and am traveling light, I decided to make something versatile that could be used up by the time I left. No problem.
This should be cooked a little thicker than usual (my usual, at least, which is fluid) so you can use it as a garnish for cheese, meats, or sandwiches. Makes 3-4pints.
3 c pitted sour cherries
1 heaping cup supersweet yellow cherry tomatoes
2 ½ c sugar
½ c brown sugar
2 tea lemon juice
1 tea vanilla
¼ tea Aleppo pepper or red pepper flakes
Blanch the cherry tomatoes in boiling water for 30 seconds; slip the skins off with your fingers or remove them with a sharp knife.
Put the cherry tomatoes, cherries, sugars, and lemon juice in a 3 qt pot and bring to a boil. Cook, skimming the white foam, until it sheets from the spoon. Add the vanilla, pepper, and salt. Cook for a minute or two longer, and remove from the heat. It should be clear. Divide among sterilized jars and cover with lids and loosely fitted rings. When cool, tighten the rings and store in the refrigerator or freezer. Bring to room temperature before serving.