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Cherry jubilee

With bated breath, I kept vigil for weeks over the tree in the corner of my garden.

How long until they ripen? How long will I have to pick as many as possible?

Cherries are more relished by birds, perhaps, than by humans. And the birds have the upper hand when it comes to claiming their piece of the cherry pie.

We’ve talked of netting the tree, a Bing type, but balk at the thought of wrangling fabric over its towering height while perched on a ladder. So the boughs remain unfettered, save for the weight of ripe fruit. We added a sour cherry tree of more manageable size a few years ago to offset some of our anticipated loss.

Sometimes, gambling does pay. And this year’s cherry jackpot is proof. I can’t recall within the past decade another such fruitful harvest, when I could snack to my heart’s content before inviting friends with kids to come and pick all they could carry.

Fortunately, visiting family — including a 2-year-old and 4-year-old — are helping to put a dent in the haul, before we freeze the remains for rainy days. Who cares about magenta spatters on floors and fuchsia streaks on clothing? We’re all smiling. Hopefully, I don’t have cherry juice on my chin, too.

Few food experiences are more gratifying than gleaning luscious fruit from one’s own yard. But locally grown, tree-ripened cherries also are available at Valley View Orchard in Ashland. The longtime U-pick operation is not permitting picking this season to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but membership boxes of fruit are offered this year at U-pick prices, and organic cherries by the pound can be purchased by advance order. Call 541-488-2840.

For dispatching large quantities of cherries, a pitter is essential. Purchased almost 15 years ago for about $20, mine is a plastic apparatus with a clamp that screws it to the edge of the counter. Then it takes only about 15 minutes to separate a few hundred cherries from their stones, paving the way for preserving in a variety of ways.

This year, my mother-in-law canned cherries in light syrup to bake into cobbler once the cool weather hits. My kitchen will yield a few jars of homemade Maraschino cherries for garnishing cocktails or desserts — or simply eating out of hand.

Belying their fancy persona, the process is straightforward for Maraschino cherries. The cherries need to macerate overnight in a saline solution, and again overnight in a sugar-lemon juice solution. Maraschino cherries then can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks or canned in a boiling water bath for longer storage.

To freeze cherries, rinse the fruit, arrange them in single layers on sheet pans and freeze for a couple of hours. The resulting ice-glazed fruit remain free-flowing from resealable plastic freezer bags for use in smaller quantities throughout the year.

When the leaves are off the cherry tree, I love to revive the frozen fruit in sauces and chutneys to serve with roast pork, duck and even lamb. This one combines dried cherries, as well as preserves, with the whole fruit.

Triple Cherry Bourbon Chutney

1 (12-ounce) package frozen, pitted, dark sweet cherries, about 3 cups

1 (5-ounce) package dried tart red cherries, about 1 cup

1/2 cup (about 5 ounces) cherry preserves or cherry jam

2 tablespoons each: bourbon, fresh orange juice

1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon cornstarch dissolved in 2 tablespoons cold water

1-1/2 to 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar (optional)

In a small saucepan, stir together the cherries, preserves, bourbon, orange juice, mustard, pepper and salt. Add 1/2 cup water; heat to a boil. Reduce heat to very low. Simmer uncovered, stirring often, until thickened and cherries have collapsed and liquid has thickened a bit, for about 15 minutes.

Stir in the dissolved cornstarch. Heat to a boil until mixture thickens. Cool. Stir in the vinegar to taste, if using. Serve at room temperature.

Makes 2 generous cups.

Maraschino Cherries

4 cups pitted (fresh or frozen/defrosted) sour cherries

1 tablespoon kosher salt

2-1/4 cups sugar

Juice from 1 lemon

1 tablespoon almond extract

Place the cherries in a shallow, heatproof glass or ceramic bowl.

In a medium saucepan over medium-high heat, combine 1-1/4 cups water and the salt. Bring to a boil, stirring until salt has dissolved. Remove from heat; cool for 10 minutes, then pour over cherries. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Drain cherries, discarding liquid. Rinse them under cool water. Rinse out bowl they were in to remove all traces of salt, then return rinsed, drained cherries to bowl.

In a small saucepan over medium-high heat, combine the sugar, lemon juice and 1/4 cup water. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Remove from heat and immediately pour over cherries. Cool, then cover and refrigerate overnight; stir cherries once or twice during that time, if possible.

Strain, reserving cherries and letting liquid drain into a small saucepan. Place cherries in a heatproof container with a tight-fitting lid. Bring liquid to a boil over high heat, then add the almond extract. Remove from heat and pour over cherries, making sure they’re all submerged. Cool, then refrigerate for up to 2 weeks. Makes 2 pints.

Sour Cherry and Rosemary Focaccia

1-1/2 pounds bread flour, (4-1/2 to 5 cups), plus more for surface and bowl

2-3/4 cups warm water (about 110 degrees)

3/4 teaspoon active dry yeast (from a 0.25-ounce envelope)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon coarse salt

1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

12 ounces (about 2 cups) pitted, fresh sour cherries (or thawed and drained frozen)

2 tablespoons coarse sanding sugar

2 tablespoons fresh rosemary leaves

With an electric mixer on medium speed, whisk the flour, water and yeast until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until tripled in volume and bubbling, for about 2 hours.

Add the salt to bowl. Switch mixer to dough-hook attachment and mix on low speed for 5 minutes. Raise speed to medium and mix for 30 seconds. (Dough should be loose and sticky.)

Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface using a dough scraper. Fold bottom edge of dough up toward center and pat gently to deflate. Fold top edge down toward center and pat gently. (Folds should overlap slightly.) Repeat with left and right sides, tapping off excess flour as you work. (Dough will be difficult to handle, but try not to incorporate too much flour.) Gently flip dough into a lightly floured bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, for about 1 hour.

Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and repeat folding process. Transfer dough to a lightly floured bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand in a warm place until doubled in volume, for about 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 450. Pour the 1/3 cup oil onto a 13-by-17-inch, rimmed baking sheet, coating entire surface. Turn out dough onto baking sheet, coating bottom with oil. Push dough out toward edges of baking sheet using your fingertips. Cover with plastic wrap and let stand for 15 minutes, pressing dough toward edges occasionally.

Drizzle dough with remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Scatter the cherries over top and sprinkle with the sugar and rosemary.

Bake in lower third of preheated oven or on a pizza stone placed on oven floor, rotating halfway through, until bottom is golden-brown, for 30 to 40 minutes. Immediately slide focaccia out of baking sheet onto a wire rack. Drizzle with any oil left in pan. Let cool slightly. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

— Recipe from the July 2011 issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine.