Saturday, July 30, 2011

Summertime Stonefruit - Cherries!

Montmorency Cherries, Fresh off the Tree

Every year I do a big summer food project. For a few years it was fruit butters, then conserves (a delicious sweet jam made with nuts and dried fruit) and recently it's been pickles, dilly beans or pickled beets. This year I was at Fred Meyer and couldn't resist the $10 cherry pitter they had on sale and that decided that. Cherries it is! I snagged it and trundled off to find cherries.

But not just any cherries: pie cherries.

In our neck of the woods it's Bings and Rainiers that you find most often: sweet, plump and meant to be eaten out-of-hand, they're delicious fresh but pretty awful for cooking and lose their texture and flavor once heated.

Pie cherries on the other hand, are closely related to wild cherries and are small, firm and SOUR, SOUR, SOUR! Really sour. As in turn-your-face-inside-out sour. These are your best cooking cherries and (once sweetened) will turn out the best cherry pie you've ever had in your life. If you've never had a fresh sour cherry pie, go find one. It'll change your life.

You can't find pie cherries in stores. They're in season for about 2.5 seconds, bruise easily and spoil within 48 hours of picking. They're really difficult to keep pristine and perfect looking. Shoppers don't want to buy them so they're just not profitable for groceries.

But... if the cherries won't come to me then I shall go to the cherries. We made a cherry run to Naches, Washington to visit Thompson's Farm. I think I got a little excited when I saw the trees because I changed our original order of 40 lbs to 70 POUNDS OF CHERRIES. I don't know what I was thinking (except maybe, YUM!).

Montmorency on the Right, Mystery on the Left

Thompson's had two different cherry varieties: a bright red Montmorency, which is the traditional super-sour french pie cherry, and mystery variety (I do love a good mystery!) of unknown type or origin that has been on the farm for over a century. It's a black pie cherry - a gorgeous dark, dark red/burgundy, with dark flesh and juice. Area nurseries have tried to identify it and propagate for years without success so we were really fortunate to get some!

Cherries in tow, we headed back over the mountains and spent the next two days pitting and processing fruit. What do you do with 70 pounds of sour cherries, you're wondering? What DON'T you do? There's a ton of options, but I've posted my two favorites here:

Perfect Cherry Pie
Cherry Bounce

My $10 cherry pitter. It's brilliant.

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