“Life is just a bowl of cherries,” Rudy Vallee sang in 1931. The happy lyric forever cemented the link between good times and sweet cherries. At this time of year, when the cherries are local and plentiful, we all get to experience the joy of the song.
Bags of sweet cherries are making their annual appearance in stores. Mysteriously dark Bing cherries and Rainiers, looking like miniature nectarines, introduce the start of the summer stone-fruit season.
Cherries are grown all across the country. Early season supplies come in from California and the Pacific Northwest. Like most fruit, though, the best eating comes from local sources. The closer to the tree you are, the better the flavor.
If you’re willing to travel a little and make an occasion of it, you can to pick your own at the Ellsworth Hill Berry Farm in Sharon, CT; Prospect Hill Orchards in Milton, NY; or near the Rip Van Winkle bridge with a view of the Hudson River at Fix Bros. Farm in Hudson, NY. The season starts around June 29 with the sweet cherries first and the sours a week or ten days later. Be sure to check before you go. The picking may start a little later due to our cool spring.
A bowl of cherries out on the counter goes pretty quickly in our house. We walk by, grab a handful, and eat them over the wastebasket so we can spit out the pits. The pits, if you’ll pardon me, are the pits. They introduce an element of uncouth behavior into what is otherwise a sublime experience. Never mind possible tooth mishaps!
Last year I splurged on a cherry pitter. It’s a simple device – a little like a pair of tongs – with a seat at the bottom for the cherry. There’s a metal rod that pokes through the cherry from the top and pushes out the pit when you squeeze the handle. The pitter, which only cost a few dollars, revolutionized my cherry experience.
It’s remarkably efficient and effective to operate. In a matter of minutes, a bowl of cherries can be rendered pit free and ready to eat or to be an ingredient in other recipes.
When quartered or roughly chopped, the cherries are a wonderful addition to a bowl of vanilla ice cream. For even more decadence, add some warm fudge sauce.
A bowl of pitted cherries in the fridge during the season comes in handy: as a topping for morning cereal; added to fruit salad; tossed into chicken salad; used to sweeten a vinaigrette; or mixed into a cocktail. At the Basso Cafe in Norwalk, Chef Renato Donzelli has created a Sweet Cherry Bourbon Smash made with sweet cherries, mint, lime juice and Bulleit Bourbon.
Sweet cherries are the best for eating, while sour cherries are the ones for baking. When canned, they’re known in the trade as RTP (red, tart, pitted). These are the ones for pies, crisps, and cobblers. Their bracing tang lends character to the flavor.
A classic cherry pie, is my favorite. Traditionally made with sour cherries and topped with a lattice crust, the filling should be pretty juicy. Too many pies are overdosed with cornstarch so that the filling barely flows when the pie is cut. If the clear, bright, tart juice is loose enough to run all over the plate, that’s ok by me.
I recently came across a recipe for sweet cherry pie in the June/July issue of Fine Cooking Magazine. It’s a sheet pan pie (also called a slab pie) sized for serving a crowd. The article includes instructions for a sheet pan crust and how-to pictures for making the lattice top in addition to a recipe for the fresh sweet-cherry filling. It looks good, but for my taste, I’d cut back on the cornstarch.
I’ve always wanted to own a car the color of sweet cherries – a rich red shading toward maroon over a layer of black. It would be stunning. The Queen’s armored custom Bentley that she rode to Harry and Megan’s wedding had it just about right.
In the meantime, I’ll be snacking on cherries and singing that happy song.