Stone fruit season is in full swing, and cherries—the smallest representative of these juicy summer treats—deserve special mention as we kick off a series devoted to fruit.
Life can be a bowl of cherries. There is no more simple or elegant way to end a meal. I wish more restaurants would be brave enough to serve exceptional and unadorned fruit for dessert, as is the custom in the Middle East (Turkey is the largest cherry producer in the world, by the way). Honor the best of the season by presenting its fruit in unapologetic celebration.
Read on for 11 simple, quick, and occasionally surprising ways to enjoy cherries at their best. Plus my recipe for a summer-cooling granita.
Photography by Marie Viljoen, except where noted.
Above: I like fresh cherries so much that for a long time I resisted cooking them. It seemed a travesty (I still feel the same way about figs). Still, to live is to learn, and to change. I can cook a cherry now without breaking into a cold sweat from fear that I’ve ruined a good thing. Cherries are remarkably versatile vehicles for sweet as well as savory improvisations that allow their succulence and flavor to tell the story of the season.
Cherry Caprese Salad
Above: I crave Caprese salads in summer but I am stubborn about tomatoes, holding out until local field-ripened fruit arrives at market. What to do? Recently, cherries came to the unlikely rescue: De-pit a handful, cutting them in half, twisting them open, and flicking the pit out with the tip of the knife. Then quick-pickle them in a 1:1 brine of sherry vinegar and water, with salt, less sugar, and lots of pepper added. Half an hour later drain the cherries and scatter them across creamy burrata or mozzarella, and top them with torn-up basil, finishing with some good extra virgin olive. The sweetness of the fruit is cut by the brine, and the basil brings an herbal edge to the bland and creamy cheese. Keep the pickling liquid for future salad dressings.
Above: Photograph by Laura Silverman.
Take pickling even further: Gardenista contributor Laura Silverman blogs at Glutton for Life and writes, “Pickled cherries make a wonderful cocktail garnish and are the perfect condiment on a charcuterie plate.” Laura’s pickle recipe takes five days to accomplish and is worth it. The finished and glossy fruit is spiked with chile, cardamom and bay.
Above: Clafoutis—an egg, flour, and cream batter poured over fresh cherries—is a cinch to prepare and delectable to eat, one of the most satisfying of summer desserts. Occasionally I actually pit the cherries, but leaving the fruit intact saves time and also adds a touch of almond flavor to the batter (just remember to warn guests that the cherries are loaded).
Above: Despite being aware that there is apparently nothing as American as cherry pie (and despite being enamored of the pie-loving Coop in Twin Peaks), I did not eat—or make—a cherry pie until a few years ago. And then I got it. It is now a summer ritual. I use no thickeners and let the fruit speak for itself. You’ll find my recipe on my blog, 66 Square Feet (the Food).
Above: Cherries for breakfast. My “surprise” muffins include a filling of cherry jam and are flavored with mahlab. A chance encounter in a Lebanese food store introduced me to this spice, as well as the sweet breakfast rolls flavored with it. Mahlab is made from the dried, crushed kernels of a Mediterranean cherry, and is used in very small quantities in baking, usually at Easter and Christmas; eating a lot might make you sick, as cherry kernels contain cyanide (that’s where the nice almond flavor comes from).
Above: I make mahlab with wild black cherries (Prunus serotina). Hammer the pits of the cherries open to extract the kernel. Dry them naturally or in a dehydrator and then pulverize them in a coffee grinder. Add a teaspoonful to plain muffins, scones or cake mixes.
Wild Cherry Pop
Above: In late summer wild black cherries drip from trees like black rain. Their flavor varies from tree to tree, so taste before you start picking. Some can be quite tannic and bitter, but the best are darkly plummy. I ferment the fresh fruit with honey, sugar, and water and within a week have a naturally carbonated wild soda that tastes uncannily like artificial cherry flavor in bubble gum. Except it’s not…
Above: Long after summer is past brandied cherries are a cold evening comfort. To make them, cover washed sweet cherries with good brandy (or bourbon), and add a little sugar to taste. Forget about them for six months. The cherries become powerful (but be warned, they lose their color), and the liquor is flavored with cherry and delicate almond.
Above: Mix wild cherry soda with rum and lime and you have what my Rum Pop. For the cherry brandy, shake it up with tart pomegranate molasses and a trickle of maraschino cherry syrup for a cocktail I call a Shamal; or deglaze the pan where you have seared a winter duck breast supper.
Fried Brandied Cherries
Above: At Gabriella Hamilton’s Lower East Side restaurant Prune, I once ate brandied cherries dipped into a batter, and deep-fried. These hot, fruity, crisp nuggets were served on a heap of sugar and grated chocolate.
Serves 6 in liqueur glasses or demitasses
This simple summer granita loses nothing in translation. The cherries are lightly cooked before being aromatized with fresh mint and white rum.
- 4 cups sweet cherries, pitted
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup lime juice
- 6 sprigs mint (the tips of each stem)
- 1/4 cup white rum
Combine the cherries, sugar, and water in a pot and bring to a simmer over high heat. Lower the heat and cook at a simmer for eight minutes. Remove from the heat. Add the mint leaves and white rum. Allow to cool.
Puree in a blender until smooth.
Pour into a shallow dish, cover, and place in the freezer. After two hours use a fork to scratch up the crystals that are forming and return to freezer. Scratch every hour or so until the granita is fluffy (in an icy way).
Enjoy it as a palate cleanser, dessert, or whizz it up with white rum and lime juice for a Rojita, my cherry take on the classic Mojito.