Now’s the season for some cherry treats

Now's the season for some cherry treats

The Perfect Early Summer Dessert
1 cherry tree
1 lightweight aluminum step
ladder
The Perfect Early Summer Dessert

1 cherry tree

1 lightweight aluminum step

ladder

Step 1: Place the step ladder under the cherry tree.

Step 2: Step over the scary blackberry brambles and onto the first step of the ladder.

Step 3: Step on the second step of the ladder.

Step 4: Look for the darkest, purplest almost-black cherry you can find.

Step 5: Put the whole cherry into your mouth and bite into the juicy sweet flesh. A properly ripe cherry will taste almost winey in its sweetness.

Step 6: Spit the pit onto the ground and look for the next beautiful bite.

I realize not everybody is lucky enough to have a cherry tree in their backyard, but I couldn’t resist sharing this moment of food at its purest – unadulterated, unaltered and unprepared.

We are fortunate in this area and in this season to have an abundance of local fresh fruits to enjoy, and right now is the peak of cherry season.

Most of the cherries we see at farm stands and in supermarkets are the Bing variety, which I think is what we have in our back yard.

When ripe, the fruit is a dark, dark purple and the taste is smoothly sweet. Enjoy them now, because the Bing season is short, only another week or so.

To find out more about cherries, I called Bonnie Swank of Swank Farms in Hollister. They have a booth at the Hollister Downtown Farmers Market and are currently selling cherries along with some early heirloom tomatoes.

The Swanks get around the short season for Bing cherries by growing five other varieties in their 12-acre orchard. The other varieties are Brooks, Tulare, Rainiers, Utah Giants and Lapins.

These varieties ripen successively over about a two-month period, so the last will be available in mid to late June, according to Bonnie.

When they are truly ripe and truly fresh, they don’t require any fussing to be delicious. The all-purpose recipe is: choose the good ones, rinse lightly, pat dry and enjoy.

But how do you choose the good ones?

The best ones are available at farmers markets throughout the area. If you are buying in a supermarket, look for cherries that are large and firm. The best way to be sure they’re good is to ask for a taste! A good produce manager will be happy to let you sample.

One of the impediments to using fresh cherries in cooking or baking is the cherry pit. While it’s good clean fun to spit them out when eating cherries fresh from the tree, cracking a tooth on a cherry pit baked into a dessert is no fun.

I researched cherry pitters on the Web and concluded that for $20 or less you can buy a contraption that “presses the pit through a gasket, drops in into a clear receptacle then brings the cherry back up and drops it in your bowl,” according to the Lehman.com description. The Cooking.com versions worked and cost about the same.

So now with fresh, pitted cherries at our disposal, we’re ready to make a couple of summery desserts.

Cherry Clafouti

(adapted from the 1997 edition of The Joy of Cooking)

A clafouti is a traditional rustic French dessert. Plums, peaches and pears can also be used. Prepare and put in the oven at the beginning of the meal – it bakes for 45 minutes and needs to cool off some before serving.

Serves 6

4 large eggs

3/4 cup sugar

1 cup half and half

2 tsp. vanilla

3/4 cup flour

pinch salt

1 lb. sweet cherries, pitted

confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Step 1: Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Step 2: Butter a 10-inch deep dish pie pan

Step 3: Beat the eggs and sugar together until frothy, about 2 minutes.

Step 4: Add the milk and vanilla and beat until smooth.

Step 5: Stir in the flour and salt.

Step 6: Distribute the pitted cherries evenly over the bottom of the pie pan.

Step 7: Pour the batter over the cherries and place the pan on a baking sheet. Bake the clafouti for about 10 minutes.

Step 8: Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 35 minutes or until the top has puffed (it will sink on cooling) and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Step 9: Transfer to a rack and cool for about 20 minutes. Dust with the confectioner’s sugar, cut into wedges and serve.

Cherry Meringue Bites

(adapted from Marthastewart.com)

Here is a way to show off several different varieties of sweet cherry, in delicate tidbits that would be the perfect ending to a summer meal, or handy on a buffet. The stems can be left on for the prettiest presentation, and if you are serving to adults, the pits can be left in, too.

The meringue shells can be made in advance and stored for several days in an airtight container at room temperature.

Parchment paper

4 large egg whites

1 cup granulated sugar

1 pinch cream of tartar

3/4 cup creme fraiche

50 cherries (about 1 pound)

Confectioner’s sugar, for dusting

Step 1: Cut two pieces of parchment paper to fit two baking sheets. Tracing a 1-inch cookie cutter, draw 25 1-inch circles on each piece of parchment. Turn the paper over, place on sheets and set aside.

Step 2: Combine egg whites, sugar and cream of tartar in the heat-proof bowl of an electric mixer. Set the bowl over a saucepan of simmering water. Whisk constantly until the sugar has dissolved and whites are warm to the touch, 2 to 3 minutes.

Step 3: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Transfer the bowl to the electric mixer and whip. Start on low speed and gradually increase the speed to high, until stiff glossy peaks form, 10 to 12 minutes.

Step 4: Using a pastry bag with a #16 star tip, fill the bag with meringue and pipe around the circles drawn on the parchment. You are aiming for a 1″ high, narrow cup of meringue. Repeat piping over the remaining circles.

Step 5: Place baking sheets in oven and bake 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 175 degrees and bake until the meringue has dried but is still white, about 35 to 40 minutes more. Transfer baking sheets to a wire rack to cool.

Step 6: When ready to serve, pipe or spoon about 1 1/2teaspoons creme fraiche into each meringue cup. Top each with a cherry.

Step 7: Dust with confectioner’s sugar and serve.

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