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An Abundance of Cherries: 5 Recipes

Cherries ripening 10 days ago. (Josh Thomas)

Cherries ripening 10 days ago. (All photos by Josh Thomas)

I am just indoors after picking three quarts of cherries in about ten minutes.

I have two trees laden with them. To me they’re fun to pick, because my fingers don’t know where to reach next; here here here here? They’re everywhere, the very definition of abundance.

These are sour cherries, planted by a previous homeowner for their springtime blossoms. But the fruit is good to eat.

Last year a late frost killed off the fruit after the trees had bloomed. The birds and I went hungry. Not this year; I’m baking up a storm. And I have so many, most will go into the freezer to enjoy the rest of the year. (Wash ’em, bag ’em, throw ’em in there.)

Free food!

Now the minute you start telling yourself there’s nothing more tedious than pitting a bunch of cherries, I’ll get in your face: it’s easy when you know how, and it’s relaxing, a mindless, hypnotic activity with fabulous results. Wear an old shirt (or none), grab yourself some iced tea or a cocktail, take your cherries and a couple of bowls to the side porch out of the sun, and enjoy yourself, dreaming about all the great food you’ll make.

There are lots of old wives’ tales about how to pit cherries; I’ve tried them all – a plastic straw, a Chinese chopstick, a paring knife. Old wives say the pits are easier to get when you pierce the fruit from the bottom.

Nonsense: use your thumb, it’s why God gave you fingernails. Pierce the top, because the seed grows right underneath it.

Put on some beach music, you’ll be done in ten minutes – so you might as well have another cocktail!

And if this puts you in mind of how much your life is like your Grandma’s, because you remember sitting out in her back yard as a kid peeling strings off green beans, well, good for you – because you loved your Grandma, her green beans were great – and they tasted better since she grew them herself and you helped.

City people think they’re hot stuff when they go to the farmers’ market and buy green beans for $2.50 a pound – “So fresh!” they exclaim – but I secretly pity them. Produce from your own yard is fresher than the farmers’ market. Grandma grew a mess of beans from a 19¢ packet of seeds and a few sticks, then silently congratulated herself for roping the kids into helping her on a summer day.

Yes, we have the internet now, 200 TV channels, smartphones and stringless beans, but life is still better in the country. I don’t need to get in the car or hop a bus to find a farmers’ market, I just walk outside and start picking.++

Cherry muffins, June 15, 2013 (Josh Thomas)

Cherry muffins, June 15, 2013

Josh’s Cherry Muffins

2 C flour
1 C pitted cherries
1 egg
3/4 C sugar
1 C milk
2 t baking powder
1/4 C oil
1/2 t salt
2 t flour for cherries
1/2 t almond extract (can substitute vanilla)

Oven to 375 degrees F. Oil muffin pan or use paper liners. In medium bowl mix 2 C flour, egg, milk, oil, sugar, baking powder, salt and extract just until flour is moistened; don’t overstir, batter should be lumpy. Put cherries in a jar with a lid; add 2 t flour and shake to coat. Fold cherries into batter, just until cherries are covered; spoon into muffin cups. Bake 20-25 minutes until golden brown; test with toothpick inserted into center. Makes 6 jumbo or 12 regular muffins.

Cherries ripening, 2013 (Josh Thomas)

Cherries ripening, 2013

Cherries are ready to pick when they’re red all over – but at their ripest, they’re a little darker than the brightest color; cherry red, not fire engine. The riper, the sweeter – but the longer you let them go, the more likely the birds are to beat you to them. The good news, as this photo illustrates, is that they don’t all ripen the same day. The best strategy is to pick what you can get every day, just like homegrown strawberries.

Cherry Sauce

3/4 C sugar
2⁄3 C cornstarch
Dash of salt
2 C pitted sour cherries, fresh or frozen
1⁄16 t almond extract or pinch of cinnamon

In medium saucepan, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Add cherries and almond flavoring or cinnamon if desired. Slowly bring to a simmer, and continue simmering until the filling is clear.

– Rosemary Perry-Hessong
Journal and Courier

Josh’s Cherry Cheese Coffeecake

2 cans refrigerated crescent rolls
1-2 8-ounce packages cream cheese
1 C sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 egg
1 egg white
~ 2 C cherries

1/2 C confectioner’s sugar
1 T milk
1/2 t vanilla extract

Oven to 350 degrees F. Oil 13×9 baking pan. Spread a pack of crescent rolls in the pan – the package consists of two rectangles cut into triangles, so lay the two rectangles end to end – and pinch all creases together so the pastry is smooth.

With electric mixer, beat cream cheese, sugar, vanilla, and whole egg together until smooth. Spread over crescent rolls evenly, top completely with cherries, then lay the second pack of crescent rolls on top and brush with egg white. Bake for 30-40 minutes until the top is golden brown. Cool 20 minutes, then drizzle on glaze.

NOTES: Rich to the point of decadence. Save money and calories by using 1 eight ounce and 1 three ounce package of cream cheese (lite is fine) or just 1 eight ounce package; it still tastes great. If using less cream cheese, cut sugar to 1/2 C for 8 ounces of cheese or 3/4 C sugar to 11 ounces. The cherries themselves don’t need added sugar; you want the contrast between a sweet ingredient and the tart cherries.

Josh’s Cherry Cobbler

Oven to 400 degrees F.

1st layer: melt 2 T butter in 9×9 pan.

2nd layer: 2 C pitted cherries or pie filling

3rd layer: Mix 3/4 C sugar, 3/4 C flour, 1/2 C milk, 1 t baking powder, pinch of salt; pour over cherries. Bake 25-30 minutes until golden brown. Serve warm with milk (Grandma’s way) or ice cream.

Cherry Cheese Bars

1/2 C butter-flavored shortening
2 C pitted cherries or pie filling
1 1/4 C flour
2 8-ounce packages lite cream cheese
1/2 C brown sugar, packed
2 eggs
2 t vanilla extract
2/3 C sugar
(1/2 C chopped almonds or walnuts)

Oven to 350 degrees F. Grease 13×9 pan with butter-flavored shortening.

Mix flour and brown sugar; cut in shortening. (Add nuts.) Reserve 1/2 C of crumbs; press remainder into bottom of pan and bake 12 minutes.

Beat cream cheese, white sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Spread on crust and bake 15 minutes.

Spread cherries over cheese; top with reserved crumbs and bake 15 minutes.

Refrigerate; cut into 2″x1″ bars. Makes 36.

Almost ripe (Josh Thomas)

This year the birds seem to be waiting for all the fruit to ripen, then they’ll gorge themselves and strip my trees bare. The fact that the fruits ripen at different rates gives me an advantage, as long as I don’t put off my picking. As soon as I decide “I’ll get to them next week,” the birds set their watches and finish off my cherries an hour before.

3 Responses

  1. Boy, those trees have grown! I remember picking some of those cherries in 2005, before the birds ate the rest of what I couldn’t reach. Most went in the freezer, the rest ended up in desserts at the Colonial Inn.

  2. They have grown; so have the spruce tree and the feather-leafed one. I could use a cherry-picker now; this is the first year I took out my ladder to reach higher. (Contrary to popular belief, the fruit up top isn’t any riper/better than the rest of the tree.) Imagine my pleasure today just standing on the ground and reaching for all the cherries in front of me. Grab grab grab!

    When I get really brave I’ll try baking a cherry pie – probably with store-bought crust the first time, before venturing to mix my own. Meanwhile the muffins and coffeecake are quick and easy, and taste so good!

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