It takes a lot of sour cherries to make one very sweet pie. About 250 sour cherries, give or take a few.
And you have to act fast. This delicate fruit - rarely sold in supermarkets because of its fragility - is available at a few you-pick-'em farms in Maryland during a very brief harvest at the end of June and the beginning of July. Sour-cherry trees love the cooling summer winds of the Great Lakes region and the Pacific Northwest - Michigan is considered the cherry capital of the United States - but Maryland farmers can include the popular Montmorency tree in their orchards as well.
After a period of dormancy lasting perhaps five years, each tree produces enough fruit each year for about 28 pies. However, it is often a race to beat the birds to their favorite fruit.
Sour cherries differ from their cousins, the larger, heart-shaped sweet cherries that are delicious by the handful. They are smaller and rounder and likely to spoil in a day or two.Without the cooking that releases the residual sweetness, they are too tart to eat fresh. But they are perfect in desserts, preserves, juices and sauces, or dried and included in salads.
And sour cherries are good for what ails you, too. Doctors believe that their deepred skin contains elements that reduce tissue inflammation. Gout and arthritis sufferers swear by pain-relieving qualities of a daily glass of the tart juice. Sour cherries are also known to contain antioxidants that help fight cancer and heart disease.
February is National Cherry Month,when we celebrate our first president, his ax, his cherry tree and his truthfulness. But now is the time to harvest sour cherries and freeze them for that midwinter pie.
SOME CHERRY THOUGHTS BUYING
Choose shiny specimens that feel somewhat firm. Avoid cherries with brown spots or dry stems. One pound equals about four to five cups - enough to make one pie, according to the Cherry Marketing Institute.
Refrigerate, unwashed, in plastic bags and use within three days. Sour cherries keep poorly, even with the best care.
Wash, drain and pit as soon as possible. Use a hand-held cherry pitter, or one that clamps to the countertop, to remove the stone and leave the fruit whole. Freezing cherries with the stone in will result in an almondlike taste. Pack in containers with sugar or a sugar syrup, using 3/4 cup sugar for every quart of cherries. Frozen cherries will keep 10 to 12 months.
Add cherries at the end of the recipe, if possible, to preserve their texture and shape.
PICK YOUR OWN
Several pick-your-own farms in Maryland should have sour cherries now through the beginning of next month for between $1 and $1.50 a pound. Call for hours.
Baugher's Farm Orchard Market: 1236
Baugher Road, Westminster, 410-857-0111
Lohr's Orchard: 3212 Snake Lane, Churchville, 410-836-2783
Larriland Farm: 2415 Route 94, Woodbine Road, Woodbine, 410-442-2605
CHOCOLATE-CHERRY CAKE SQUARES
3 cups fresh or frozen (not thawed) pitted
sour cherries (1 pound)
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon almond extract
1 cup boiling water
3/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (not Dutch process)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
1-1/4 teaspoons baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted
1-1/4 cups packed
4 large eggs
1 cup semisweet
confectioners' sugar for garnish
Toss fresh or frozen cherries and any juices with granulated sugar and almond extract in a bowl and let stand at least 2 hours. Drain cherries, Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 13-inch-by-9-inch metal baking pan, knocking out excess flour.Whisk hot water and cocoa powder in a small bowl until smooth, then whisk in reserved cherry juices and vanilla.
Sift together flour, baking soda and salt in another bowl.
Beat together butter and brown sugar in a large bowl with an electric mixer at medium speed until pale and fluffy, about 3 minutes, then add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition.
Add flour mixture and cocoa mixture alternately in batches, beginning and ending with flour mixture and mixing at low speed until blended (batter may look curdled).
Stir in cherries and chocolate chips and pour batter into pan,smoothing top.Bake in middle of oven until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean, 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool cake completely in pan on a rack, then cut into squares. Just before serving, dust with confectioners' sugar.
Note: Cake can be made up to three days ahead and kept in an airtight container at room temperature. The rich chocolate-cherry flavor of this cake becomes more pronounced after a day or two.
Per serving: 462 calories, 6 grams protein, 22 grams fat, 13 grams saturated fat, 65 grams carbohydrate, 4 grams fiber, 111 milligrams cholesterol, 267 milligrams sodium
Sour cherries are too tart to eat fresh, but are great for pies because cooking releases their sweetness. [CHERRY MARKETING INSTITUTE]