Every holiday needs a food associated with it, and the Fourth of July is no exception. I asked several people what came to mind when I mentioned Independence Day, and many of them said, "hot dogs."
Well, OK, I guess, but a few had a different -- and much better -- idea. They recommend making cherries the official July 4 treat.
After all, you can eat hot dogs any time of year, if you must, but the time for cherries is right now. And the fruit has a patriotic association through George Washington and his hatchet.
The best cherries are fully ripe and firm to the point of crispness in texture. They will keep fairly well for a few days if left unwashed in a closed paper bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
From a nutritional standpoint, fresh cherries are an excellent addition to the diet. A 5-ounce serving (a good handful) adds a moderate 90 calories, and, like most fruits, cherries are a good source of vitamin C, minerals and fiber.
They are no trouble to serve; in fact, the vast majority of cherries sold fresh end up consumed just as they are, making them a perfect addition to a picnic basket.
There are, however, myriad cherry recipes that are worth trying, if you can keep your hands off them beforehand.
Note on pitting cherries: Although you can simply squeeze out the pits, the job is much easier and less messy if you invest in a cherry pitter. These resemble the hand tools used to punch holes in paper and are available at most kitchen equipment dealers.
:. We begin our recipes with a grand classic:
Makes 8 servings.
pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
1 cup sugar (or to taste)
2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch
flavoring options (see variations)
5 cups pitted cherries
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
egg glaze (optional -- recipe follows)
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line 9-inch pie plate with dough.
Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt. Toss with cherries. Fill pie shell with fruit, dot with butter and top with an upper crust. Seal and flute edge. Cherry pie often is given a lattice crust on top. If a smooth top crust is used rather than a lattice crust, poke holes in the top crust with a fork.
Paint the crust with egg glaze. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until fruit is bubbly and crust is brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cherry pie may be accompanied by sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Variations: Any of these may be mixed into the cherries when they're tossed with the sugar mixture: 3 or 4 drops of almond extract, a sprinkling of cinnamon or a sprinkling of ginger.
Cherry-apple pie: Replace up to half of the cherries with pared, cored and sliced Granny Smith or other cooking apples.
Cherry-rhubarb pie: Replace up to half the cherries with trimmed, sliced rhubarb; add additional sugar to taste.
Egg glaze: Beat 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water.
Here's an interesting pie, attributed to Zenda Cabral of Holladay, Utah, one of the states in the Northwest growers' group. The dish is taken from "American Pie Celebration," a booklet published by Procter & Gamble.
The recipe calls for sour cherries, available frozen. You can substitute 5 cups of pitted fresh sweet cherries, cutting sugar to 2/3 cup. You need more volume of fresh cherries, because they will cook down more.
Utah's best cherry pie
Makes 8 servings.
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup peach nectar (available canned)
1/3 cup Chambord liqueur (optional -- see note)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
3 1/2 cups thawed frozen dry-pack pitted red tart cherries, well drained
egg glaze (see preceding recipe)
Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt in medium saucepan. Stir in nectar and liqueur. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and clear. Add butter, stirring until melted. Cool.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line 9-inch pie pan with pastry. Add cherries to nectar mixture. Pour into crust. Top with upper crust, which may be lattice-style (if top crust is solid, poke holes in it with a fork), and bake about 40 minutes. Cool until slightly warm or room temperature.
Note: Chambord is a sweet, raspberry-flavored liqueur. You could substitute an equal amount of sieved raspberry jam. Or try cassis syrup or black currant jelly.
Fresh cherries make an interesting salsa or chutney.
Makes 3/4 cup.
1 cup pitted cherries
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped green peppers
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt to taste
red pepper sauce to taste
In a food processor, or with a knife, chop cherries. Combine with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
This salsa goes well with chicken, pork or boiled fish. It is best served when recently made; the flavors dilute with storage.
Makes 2 1/2 pints.
4 cups cherries, pitted
HTC 4 cups fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 medium lemon, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped onion