By Allison St. Claire
I grew up with a sour cherry tree in our minuscule back yard in a large Midwestern city. I spent all my childhood summers – after cherry-picking time at home in Ohio – at my grandparents’ multi-generational farm in Pennsylvania where the sour cherries were ripening just as we arrived. Could there ever be a better part of summer than cherry season? Not for this sweaty, sticky, finger-lickin’ kid.
Perhaps it was no surprise that when my birthday rolled around the following April, my mother always found a couple of jars of canned cherries from the year before hidden away in the root cellar. She always prepared whatever we requested for our birthday dessert – and she knew I’d ask for cherry pie. Everyone else usually wanted her mocha chocolate cake, but we didn’t have a cacao tree handy – and although I never turned down a piece of that cake, if I wanted “Special,” I wanted sour cherries!
As a young bride in the ‘60s, I wanted to impress my husband (and, of course, treat myself) with cherry pie -- birthday or special occasion not required. But even with all those spectacular cherry blossoms just a few miles away surrounding the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C., I hadn’t a clue where to find sour cherries. I tried canned cherry pie filling. Bleck! Oooey, gooey way over-sugared glop.
Scratch the cherry pies for a few decades.
But these days, between farmers markets, organic fruits appearing in more supermarkets, and online sources, sour cherries are back in my freezer and tucked into or poured over a whole lot of delicious dishes. And at our age, sour cherries can be a real blessing with loads of antioxidants and welcome relief for sore joints and arthritic pain.
Tis the season right now so here’s how to have cherries three ways in the same meal – or three different meals if you don’t share my cherry gluttony, or don’t want added sugar three times in the same meal (probably a very good plan).
Green Salad Gussied Up with Cherries, Nuts and Cheese
Prepare a bowl of your favorite salad greens. Include some bitter greens like arugula or dandelion or amaranth if they are available at a local farmers market, to play off sweet cherries if you’re using those. Otherwise, just clean out your veggie drawer or pick what’s ready in your garden.
Add the following to taste:
Chopped, toasted walnuts or pecans or almonds.
Dried cherries, or chopped fresh ones. Add sugar to taste if you’ve used sour cherries.
Sprinkle some feta or goat cheese over everything. Or salt to taste if you prefer no cheese.
Add 1/4 tsp. chia seeds (tasteless but super-nutritious). They turn somewhat gelatinous as they soak up the juice from fresh cherries and help keep the greens from getting too soggy.
Top with some balsamic vinegar or a crisp raspberry vinaigrette.
Pork Chops Smothered in Cherry Sauce
Fruit of almost any kind are a natural with pork, but of course, I go first with cherries.
Cook 2 pork chops (preferably pasture-fed so they’re not pumped full of brine, sugars or chemicals) in melted butter or olive oil in a medium hot skillet. Brown approximately 3 minutes on each side until slightly pink in the middle. Transfer to a plate and cover to keep warm.
In 1 tsp. additional oil or butter, saute 1 small chopped shallot or sweet onion (such as Vidalia) about 1 minute to soften. Add 1 cup fresh cherries or 1/4 cup dried cherries, 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar, and ½ cup chicken or vegetable broth. (If preferred, replace up to ½ broth with port or other sweet wine.) Add some thyme sprigs if desired (remove before serving). Cook over medium heat until sauce is reduced by about half. Salt and pepper chops to taste, plate, and cover with cherry sauce to serve.
Cherry Creme Brulee
(Quick, healthy, almost raw version using yogurt instead of egg yolks. Do not use fruit flavored yogurt – it is almost always low-fat and loaded with too much sugar or even chemical sweetners.)
1 lb. cherries (black)
1 cup heavy cream
7 oz. plain full-fat yogurt
4 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
sugar (for caramelizing)
Drain the cherries, and spoon equally into 6 ramekins and set aside. In a bowl, whisk the cream into soft peaks. Fold in the yogurt with 4 tablespoons sugar and the vanilla. Spoon on top of the cherries, and make the top level. Chill for a couple of hours or overnight in the refrigerator. When ready to serve, lightly sprinkle the top of each ramekin with sugar in an even layer. Place ramekins in a baking dish with a layer of ice or cold water around the ramekins. Put top oven shelf close to the broiler. Caramelize under a very hot preheated grill (500F). Watch carefully to avoid burning or melting the yogurt – approximately 5 minutes depending on your oven.