Seasonal Foods: Sour Cherries

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This past Saturday – with Tala’s help – we did something crazy. We pitted 20 pounds of sour cherries. What? These don’t look like the cherries you find in the grocery store, or even the farmers market? It’s true. These cherries are a different variety, and a different animal altogether. Sour cherries are extremely rare and hard to come by out here on the west coast, but if you’re from the midwest, or even the northeast, you may have had a tree in your yard or neighborhood growing up. Most likely, although we’re not 100% certain, our cherries were Montmorency Cherries – a variety widely available in Europe and scattered throughout the US. They need frost to thrive, you see, and that’s one of the only times I can think of that our amazing Bay Area weather prohibits us from access to a particular produce item. You can’t have everything, I guess.

Anyway, sour cherries are THE pie cherry. Their tart acidity and depth of cherry flavor is what really makes the cherry pie you’re used to what it is. And getting them, pitting them, and making it yourself produces THE BEST cherry pie filling. Trust me. These cherries are also what should be used to make maraschino cherries – or brandied, bourbon, or any other liquor-infused cherry you prefer. I think Tala plans to put some up this way this year, while I’ll be making her a Slab Pie for her birthday with mine. (More about that later.) Just don’t pop one in your mouth expecting to love it – even if you promise me you love sour things! These cherries will make you pucker, though I do recommend trying one just so you understand their raw flavor.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Miraculously, pitting all 20 lbs only took about 2 hours worth of work, but we did make an assembly line system out of it, which helped. My utensil of choice is a paperclip, but a bobby pin will work as well. You can’t use a pitter on these cherries, because it’ll destroy their delicate, juicy interiors. The pit isn’t as attached to the flesh in these cherries as it is in sweet cherries, it more, well, floats around inside and just needs to be scooped out. You pluck the stem off the top, poke the end of an unfolded paperclip into the stem end, and scoop out the pit. Pretty simple! So what are we going to do with 10 lbs each? Too – late – we already froze them! In that first photo, you can see them in their luminescent glory, all spread out on sheet pans and waiting to be popped into the freezer. Once they’re solid, you can store them in canning jars or ziploc bags. They’ll keep for about a year this way – and it maintains their pure flavor and color very effectively.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Now that we’ve inspired you, we hope you can find these lovely orbs for yourself! Maybe you can make a pie or turnovers? Some true maraschino cherries for your old fashioneds? These cherries are only available for a few weeks in June, and most certainly the farmers markets are already sold out. You might have some luck at Whole Foods or Berkeley Bowl, or maybe BiRite will have them. Just for reference, you’ll need around 2 or 3 pounds to make anything like a pie or other pastry, so scoop them up if you see them. A handful won’t do it.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And because this is a wine blog, after all, let’s talk about the wine that accompanied our pitting extravaganza. The 2011 Robert Sinskey Muscat à Petits Grains tastes like flowers in your mouth. It’s fresh, delicate, and crisp. A wonderful and versatile complement to our indoor-picnic lunch of fresh chevre, castelvetrano olives (our fave!), oven roasted tomatoes from last year’s crop, smoked oysters, and Oakland’s own Firebrand Bakery bread. Tala and I both loved it – though she preferred the 2010. This wine is made in very small quantities, so ask for it very nicely if you’re ever at the Sinskey tasting room, and they might sell you a bottle. No promises.