IN THE spring I was asked to do a demonstration using cherry recipes to coincide with the fabulous cherry blossom display we all enjoy at that time of year. A nice idea but there was one problem – cherries are produced as the result of the blossom and obviously not when the blossom is out. In other words, they were out of season.
Anyway it got me thinking about all things cherry and encouraged me to write some recipes using this delicious summer fruit.
Because of the time of year I had to revert to tinned or dried cherries and cherry jam, all of which are readily available, for testing these recipes and indeed for the demonstration. Although they are a fruit and sweet, cherries lend themselves very well to savoury dishes, particularly duck, pork and ham.
The ubiquitous Black Forest Gateau would be nothing without them, nor would the classic American Cherry Pie, obviously.
Last year I bottled some left-over cherries in a Kilner jar, which could not be simpler and is an excellent way of preserving them. Pack cherries into a sterilised jar, add granulated sugar to come roughly a third of the way up the jar, put the lid on and give them a good shake to coat with the sugar and then fill to the top with brandy, kirsch or rum.
You need roughly one-third sugar to two-thirds alcohol. Seal and keep for a minimum of two months before eating. Delicious spooned over vanilla ice cream, used in baking or to give as a lovely – if very potent – present.
Most of the cherries we eat in this country are imported but it is worth trying to get hold of some British ones when they are in season – from mid-July for about six weeks. Use them to make clafoutis which is a classic French dessert originating from the Limousin region of France where they have cherries in abundance. A bit like a tart with no pastry the cherries are baked in a sweet batter. Traditionally they should not be stoned so that when you bite into them all their delicious juices are released into your mouth and the flavour is a lot stronger – without the stones, the juices leech out during cooking.
No one is complaining about NOT stoning a cherry ... a very messy and time-consuming job which leaves your hands looking as though you have just carried out major surgery.
And anyway, without the stones you wouldn’t be able to play the stone game – Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Sailor etc. However, don’t forget to warn your fellow diners about the stones or they might require major surgery.
As the year goes on you can make this with other fruit such as blackberries or plums, and one other thing. It should be served warm rather than hot. Cold is fine too.
A little butter
450-675g (1-1½ lbs) fresh cherries or 2 x 400g tins, stoned or un-stoned
3 tbsp plain flour
A pinch of salt
6 tbsp caster sugar, plus a little extra for dusting
425ml (¾ pt) milk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C/375F/Gas 5. Grease a shallow ovenproof dish with a little butter and scatter the un-stoned cherries over the bottom. If using tinned cherries, drain them very well.
2. Put the flour into a bowl with the salt and the sugar. (If using tinned cherries only use 2-3 tablespoons of sugar as they are very sweet). Make a well in the centre, add the eggs, lightly beaten with a fork, and using a wooden spoon stir the eggs, gradually drawing the flour into the middle.
Whisk or stir in the milk and vanilla essence to make a smooth batter. Alternatively mix all the ingredients together in a liquidiser. Pour over the cherries.
3. Dot with a little butter and cook for 25-30 minutes or until the batter is just set and rich golden brown on top. Sprinkle with a little extra caster sugar and serve lukewarm – not hot.
It is also good cold. If serving cold, dust with a little icing sugar. Serve with cream or crème fraiche.
The batter can be made up to 24 hours in advance and kept covered in the fridge until required.