I have to say it’s been a delightful summer so far. Beautiful days with blue, blue skies full of enormous cumulus clouds, and nights cool enough to need a light blanket. It’s almost as if I’m in Maine not Massachusetts, and I like it very much. Of course Mother Nature has had a few bitchin’ days here and there. It’s as if she morphs into a menopausal menace who forces everyone to live through her horrendous hot flashes made up of 98º F which she then combines with 98% humidity; because you know if Mamma suffers, than everyone has got to suffer. Fortunately those nasty days have been fairly limited, and for the most part I get to start each morning listening to the birds sing and the bumblebees buzz in my hostas. A few days ago I was treated to a viewing of the proverbial birds and bees when I watched a pair of hummingbirds fly from my nasturtiums to my morning glories and then on to the hostas, fighting as they went of course since that is what hummingbirds do, while dozens of bumbles sedately moved from one hosta stem to the next, occasionally stopping by the other flowers to test their tastiness. It was actually thrilling to see both birds and bees seeking nectar and pollen from the same plants.
A bonus to this pleasant weather is that I’ve actually felt like turning the stove on to cook. Unlike summers past where it has been so hot I’ve felt like I was melting (and as a result of that heat I whined about the temperature a lot – like here and here and here), it has actually been okay to bake things. Which is good because I have been on a sour cherry binge. You think I’m kidding, but I’m not. I have been going to the farmer’s market every Saturday and bringing home baskets upon baskets, and then case upon case of sour cherries from Outlook Farm.
Some of the things I’ve done with this massive amount of sour cherries has not needed any heat. My Sour Cherry Gin Jings which are made up of muddled sour cherries, a squirt of simple syrup or maple syrup, a shot or two of gin, sometimes juice/sometimes not, all topped off with some seltzer and mint are made on the counter or sometimes out on the deck as the sun is setting. Quite refreshing and no heat required.
Mostly I’ve been working on a pretty stellar Sour Cherry Crumble. I know, I know you want to get our your tiny violin and play some sad songs for the suffering I’ve gone through this past month taste-testing six I mean
seven, well actually nine sour cherry crumbles. I also whipped up a batch of Sour Cherry Hand Pies to pack in a picnic Isabelle, Russell, Vivian, and I took to The Clark Museum*. They were lovely, but needed more filling according to my intrepid taste testers and myself. Basically it’s been a month of sour cherry feasting.
What I’ve come to learn is that while most berries are juicy, sour cherries seem to explode with juice. This juiciness necessitates a few alterations to how one would normally approach a berry dessert. If you treat the sour cherries like a blueberry for instance, and just toss them with some sugar and flour, then sprinkle with a crumb topping you’ll watch in fascination and horror as the cherry juice first bubbles up and over the pie plate (more so than any blueberry ever could). This juice-ifying can be at times so violent that it will even eject whole cherries from the pie onto the baking pan (which you hopefully put under your pie plate because if you didn’t you’ll be scrubbing the bottom of your oven for a week). As the cooking continues the cherry filling proceeds to swallow the crumb topping like a molten sea of red lava before the topping ever has a chance to brown and crisp up. The first time I watched this happen it reminded me of the cheesy special effects of a Godzilla movie.
My solutions to this sour cherry juiciness are two-fold – first use a bigger (or at least deeper) dish and second pre-cook the filling a bit before proceeding with the pie or crumble making. I can already hear the whining, “But do I really have to take this extra step?” To which I answer, “Read the paragraph above.” Do you really want to deal with sour cherry ooze?
The other thing to note about cherries, sour or otherwise, is that they have pits, and you must get rid of said pits before you make a pie or crumble or cocktail. This is a tedious job which can be made less tedious by listening to a book on tape. Something like Jane Austin’s Pride and Prejudice or whatever book strikes your fancy (I certainly don’t expect everyone to be an Austin fan, but trust me when I say a book or podcast will help the process go faster). Our library system now offers ebooks and audio books which you can download onto your tablet or computer. This means you will never be without a book to read or listen to as long as you can charge your device, which is cause for a happy dance in my opinion.
I’ve written before on this blog about not wanting to own kitchen tools that only serve one purpose. One hundred pounds of cherries later I do wonder if I should break my rule and invest in a cherry pitter. My knitting group certainly recommended I think about it as they scoffed down multiple helpings of a gluten-free sour cherry crumble I made for them (everyone in my knitting group is GF, with the exception of moi). Maybe next year I’ll invest in a pitter. Or not.
1 quart sour cherries, pitted
3/4 cups sugar
juice of 1/2 small lemon
1/2 – 2 Tablespoons corn starch
2/3 cup flour (or same amount as cup4cup GF “flour”)
2/3 cup old-fashioned oats
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
3 ounces (3/4 stick) margarine or butter
If you’ve already pitted the cherries you can start with the recipe. If not turn on your book on tape or favorite CD and pit away. Don’t bother wasting the energy of preheating the oven while you pit.
In a medium size saucepan stir together the cherries, sugar, cornstarch and lemon juice. Heat over medium high heat, stirring occasionally, more towards the end than at the beginning, for 14 – 20 minutes or until mixture starts to thicken and has bubbled away for several minutes. Don’t let the mixture burn, because it will if you don’t attend to it, and you did after all just spend a whole heck of a lot of time pitting those cherries, so burning would be bad.
After the mixture has been started to bubble around the edges of the saucepan preheat the oven to 400ºF. Once the mixture has thickened and cooked a wee bit scrape it into your pie plate. As I said before I found it helpful to use something slightly larger than you’d normally use for a fruit pie. An 8″ square Pyrex pan is a good choice. So is a 12″ round pie plate. All my pie plates are glass or ceramic, so I don’t know if the acidity from the cherries and lemon juice would react to a metal pie plate. Better not to find out is my advice. Set your pie plate on a jelly roll pan which has been lined with parchment paper or a silpat mat. Even using the bigger pie plate/dish there will still be some spill over.
Pop in the oven for 45 minutes and then start to make your topping. Do this by rubbing the margarine (if you’re serving people who have dairy allergies or are vegan) into the flour/oatmeal/sugar mix with your fingertips until it is crumbly and had lumps the size of peas. If the cherry pie has been in the oven about 10 – 15 minutes carefully sprinkle the crumble over the top, making sure you do not dump too much in any one spot. If you like less crumble that this recipe makes simply sprinkle on what you like and freeze the rest for another pie or to put on top of muffins. Continue baking the pie until the topping is nicely browned and the sour cherry goo has bubbled up (hopefully not over too much) around the edges of your topping. When everything is brown and bubbly and smelling divine remove from the oven and cool.
Here’s something I learned from SCC #8 – if you try to eat this right out of the oven it will be like soup. Plus chances are very good that you will burn your mouth, even if you try to eat it a là mode. So be patient and wait for it to cool down, then enjoy.
*If you are around western Massachusetts this summer it really is worth your time to take a trip over to the The Clark Museum. They have a lovely Van Gogh exhibit, along with James McNeill Whistler’s Arrangement in Grey and Black No. 1 which I was thrilled to see, plus they are showing the winning Super Bowl art wager (on loan for three months from the Seattle Art Museum) – Albert Bierstadt’s Puget Sound on the Pacific Ocean. Oh, and they recently finished an exquisite renovation of their building so that it now has this series of gorgeous reflecting pools, plus plenty of picnic tables for enjoying your lunch outside at.