Cherries create sweet, fleeting summer moments

June 02, 1993|By Mary Malouf | Mary Malouf,Contributing Writer

The old saying "Life is just a bowl of cherries" gains new poignancy during the brief cherry season.

For one thing, you can buy a bowl of fresh cherries for only about six weeks a year. Then each luscious fruit contains a stone that requires a lot of patience, and sometimes mess, to extract. That's a lot like life.

Bing cherries are the most popular in the country. Along with Rainier and Lambert, they constitute 95 percent of the cherry crop in the Northwest -- Oregon, Washington, Idaho and parts of California -- where the long, warm days and cool nights are perfect for cherry trees.

Starting in June, the California cherries come in first, then in a few weeks comes the fruit from Washington and Michigan.

Cherries are allowed to ripen fully on the tree and are then hand-picked; the fruit generally is on its way to market within 48 hours of harvest. Look for large, firm fruit with even coloring.

Bing cherries are large, with a dark maroon color. They're followed in the market by Lamberts, which are more elongated and have less sugar. Other varieties you may encounter are the Van, with lighter colored, pink to bright red fruit; Rainier, which is a combination of Bing and Van with colorless juice; Chinook; Black Republican; and, occasionally, Royal Anne.

Bings, Rainiers and Lamberts are sweet cherries, the most popular type for eating fresh. So-called sour cherries, which are not actually sour but have a higher acidity level, are preferred for cooking.

Sweet or sour, the primary obstacle to cooking with fresh cherries is, literally, the pits. Charming Billy's

bride may have been able to bake a cherry pie in the twinkling of an eye -- but that didn't include the time it took her to pit the fruit.

One type of cherry pitter you can buy looks like a meat grinder and allows one person to handle more volume. The venerable "Joy of Cooking" (Bobbs-Merrill, 1984) advises using a hairpin or clean pen nib. However tedious stoning cherries may be, it's worth it because the growing season is so short and fresh cherries are so wonderful.

All-American cherry pie

Makes 8 servings

Pastry for a 9-inch double-crust pie shell, unbaked

4 cups fresh cherries

2 2/3 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca

1 1/3 cups sugar

2 tablespoons kirsch (optional)

2 tablespoons butter

Heat oven to 450 degrees. Wash, drain and pit cherries. Mix cherries, sugar, tapioca and kirsch; let stand for 15 minutes. Pour fruit into unbaked pie shell and dot with butter. Cover with slashed top crust or lattice pastry. Bake 10 minutes at 450, then reduce heat to 350 and bake about 40 minutes longer or until golden brown.

Per serving: calories: 501; fat: 22 grams; cholesterol: 8 milligrams; sodium: 496 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 38.

Cherry compote

Makes 6 servings

2 pounds cherries

1/4 cup sugar

1 teaspoon kirsch

2 to 3 teaspoons balsamic vinegar

Sort, rinse, stem and pit cherries. Put them in a saute pan big enough to hold cherries in a shallow layer.

Sprinkle the fruit with the sugar and cook over high heat, shaking the pan until the sugar melts and the cherries start to feel soft. Sprinkle the cherries with the kirsch and the vinegar and shake the pan about 30 seconds longer. Scrape cherries into a container and refrigerate. Let stand an hour or so before serving over vanilla ice cream or by themselves with macaroons.

Per serving: calories: 106; fat: negligible; sodium: 5 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 3.

Clafouti

Makes 6 to 8 servings

1 1/4 cups milk

2/3 cup sugar (divided use)

3 eggs

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/8 teaspoon salt

2/3 cup sifted flour

3 cups pitted black cherries

confectioners' sugar

Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place milk, 1/3 cup sugar, eggs, vanilla, salt and flour in a blender and blend at top speed for 1 minute. Pour a 1/4 -inch layer of batter in a 7- to 8-cup lightly buttered fireproof baking dish or Pyrex pie plate. Set over moderate heat for a minute or two until the batter has set slightly.

Spread the cherries over the batter and sprinkle on the remaining 1/3 cup sugar. Pour on the rest of the batter and smooth the surface. Place in the middle of the oven and bake about an hour. The clafouti is done when it is puffed and browned or a toothpick or knife comes out clean. Sprinkle the top with confectioners' sugar and serve warm.

Per serving: calories 208; fat: 4 grams; cholesterol 97 milligrams; sodium 91 milligrams; percent calories from fat: 18.

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