Grandpa would hoist me deep into the branches. Suddenly I was surrounded by a forest of fruit-heavy limbs with hundreds of plump cherries at my disposal. My arms blurred in hurried motion as I picked as fast as I could before Grandpa’s arms grew tired. I looked as if I had come from battle, descending the tree with every inch of me stained with flecks of blood red juice.
Many years later, my husband and I bought our first home. It met much of our criteria, but it was t he two cherry trees in the front yard that had me signing on the dotted line. Disappointment hit initially as the summer brought forth berries of a light pink hue. They weren’t the cherries that I remember eating with grandpa. I mourned the idea of eating the cherries straight off the tree only briefly, as I quickly learned that sour cherries create the most lovely preserves and pie. We’ve since sold that home and each year I think of those trees hoping that the current owner realizes the treasure they now have.
Chef and author Nigel Slater says, “A bag of cherries is a bag of happiness.” I could not agree more. There is nothing wrong with simply plucking the dense berries from their stem and placing them directly into your mouth. No recipe could be easier or more rewarding. But there are hundreds of creative ways you can incorporate cherries into meals, sweet or savory.
At the end of a summer meal, a large bowl of cherries over ice, served with another large bowl of whipped cream, creates the perfect dessert. Guests are encouraged to dunk the berries deep into the subtly sweet cream, then straight into their mouths. A light dusting of cinnamon onto the cream transcends the dessert even further, as cinnamon and cherries create an endearing union. If chocolate excites you more than cream, simply replace one for the other. Cherries dipped in chocolate –what could be better? You could do this ahead and serve as a lovely after-dinner treat. Simply melt a bowl filled of chocolate, dip cherries in leaving a bit of their brightly colored flesh showing, refrigerate, then bring out to a table filled with happy people upon seeing the arrival of fresh fruit and chocolate.
Atop a bed of peppery arugula, cherries soften the greens with their sweetness and add a brilliant pop of color. Shavings of Parmigiano-Regiano are highly recommended. Or start the meal with a platter of cherries atop fresh goat cheese. Serve with crackers or bread.
If the cherries are a bit lacking in flavor it is a tragedy, but not all hope is lost. A bit of time in the oven brings out their natural sweetness and changes the flavor to something new and quite exciting. Toss with a bit of sugar or honey and enjoy over ice cream, yogurt or alone with a spoon.
Lately, our cherries disappear too quickly for me to do anything except enjoy my own children getting as much pleasure with them as I do. If we do have a few stragglers or some berries that are less than perfect but still needn’t be wasted, they have become part of our lemonade. A quick muddling of a few cherries with cold lemonade splashed over top instantly feels of summer no matter what it looks like outside.
by Ashley Rodriguez