Saturday, January 18, 2014

Consider the cherry

I love cherries. I'm not fond of fruits in general, I regret to say -- I pass by those huge bright displays of plums, peaches, apricots, and nectarines in the grocery store, because they are all so uniformly sour, and we know that Madeleine Kamman agrees "unless you grow your own," strawberries are a waste of space -- but I do love cherries. They are just about the only fruit or vegetable left which still has a season. One may buy Chilean asparagus in November, and very good it is too, and "summer" berries, though expensive and sour, at any time of the year. Cherries remain the sweet glory of the Northern Hemisphere's summer. June and July, a portion of August, are just about all you may have of them; after that, you must wait till next year. Maybe that accounts for their still having flavor when they do arrive.

Cherry pie was always my requested dessert for childhood birthdays. I like cherries as a motif of kitchen decor. Note the plate above. True, though, that I also like the motif of pears and lemons and indeed, any fruit plus the occasional vegetable, even outside the kitchen. A pair of bright little orange glass pumpkin earrings sorely tempted me, yesterday, in a booth at Comic-con.

I like the name Cherry for a baby girl, since it sounds so cute and cheerful. Not many women are named Cherry. At the moment I can think of only one, an actress named Cherry Morris who played a small role, Withers the parlormaid, in the great old BBC series Mapp and Lucia. Anything involving Mapp and Lucia has the imprimatur of joy and delight upon it. And speaking of those novels, what does it mean when one of the characters, Olga the prima donna, "ate a cherry beginning with the end of the stalk"? Her admirers try to do it too and cannot. " 'Not so easy, by Jove,' " one gentleman says. No, I imagine not. 

Cherries themselves seem to carry that same imprimatur of joy and delight. According to the Oxford Companion to Food, they are members of the rose family, as are plums, peaches, apricots, and almonds. A nicely regal (if overcropped and now sour) company. "In medieval art cherries represented a sweet, pleasing character, and the delights of the blessed." And that's nice, too.

Most of us shopping for cherries will encounter only a few varieties, Bing, Montmorency, or the lovely yellow-and-pinkish red Rainier being the obvious. There are, however, 1200 varieties of cherry cultivated around the world, "about 900 sweet and 300 sour," as the Companion goes on to tell us. We should feel gratified at finding the Montmorency, one of the sour ones, in our grocery stores. It was once considered "the finest variety on the Paris markets" and is now hard to source in France -- or was, when the Companion was published -- where connoisseurs want it for conserve- or brandy-making. Another sour cherry, the black Morello, is the cherry of Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte, Black Forest cake (another one of my favorite chocolate cakes, are we surprised?) and of kirsch, cherry liqueur. Note how we sweet-loving humans want the sour types sugared up and used for other things.

Minor point. Do you remember the scene in Young Frankenstein when Herr Doktor, Igor, and Elsa are sitting at the elegant dinner table enjoying their dessert after a trying day? The revived monster in the basement gives a huge, muffled groan which Herr Doktor mistakes for one of his dinner companions' "making a 'yummy' sound." "Do you like it?" he says pleasantly. "It's Schwarzwalder Kirschtorte. It is excellent." He got the name right, even though this is a Mel Brooks movie and one might think all those syllables in German amount to an inside joke.

For me the best use of cherries -- the sweet ones -- is to eat them out of hand. If you'd like to use them as a culinary motif, whether you pick sweet or sour, do please enjoy some recipes that Foodista collected from the summertime, cherry-obsessed Web. To wit.:

Cherry, sage, and pinot noir jam, from Savory Notes.

Sour cherry lemonade, from Some Kitchen Stories

Cucumber and cherry salsa from Food for 7 Stages of Life

And then there is my own cherry pie, which I will introduce with a tempting picture first, and proffer the recipe later

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