Summer is here in the Northwest, marked by the arrival of the cherries. They are lovely with their shiny jewel colored skins. For a wonderful month or so they appear, and then before you know it, gone. A short sweet life. There is a line in Mary Oliver's famous poem, The Summer Day, which comes to mind. Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? She too must have been thinking about the cherries.
What makes a cherry so special, so desirable? During the last years of my mothers life, she would often call me from Pasadena, to "confess", obviously feeling guilty, that she purchased another tiny bag of $20 cherries, from Whole Foods, and preceded to devour them all in 10 minutes. I could hear the bubbling delight in her voice over the phone, masked by a tinge of guilt over the cost. Being frugal the whole of her life, this was clearly a luxury, one that need justifying. By the end of the conversation, (and like I mentioned, this same conversation occurred repeatedly, several times a summer, and over several summers) I would talk her down, easing her guilt. Eventually she would feel some reassurance that this was, in fact a very worthy purchase. After all, anything that could give her that much delight, was, as Visa so perfectly put it.... priceless.
To this day, I can not look at a cherry without picturing her devouring them ... and feeling a little of the joy it brought her.
I broke down and bought a cherry pitter last week. I'd never used one before, but after trying to pit cherries in all sorts of destructive ways, it became clear that it was probably a good investment. Cherry pitter in hand, I tried a go of it. The pits came out easily and quickly, leaving the beautiful little gem in tact. At the rate I was going, it took about 10 minutes to pit 3 cups. It's easy and faster than I imagined and in a way, strangely gratifying. Definitely a more respectful way to treat a cherry.
Cherries are packed with good things. They are rich in pigments, or anythocyanins, (red, purple and blue pigments found in many fruits and vegetables, especially concentrated in their skin) known to have powerful anti-oxidant properties. Studies have shown that anthocyanins in cherries have amazing anti-inflammatory properties. Consuming cherries or cherry juice can help with painful episodes of gout, arthritis, fibromyalgia, and even sports injuries. Studies also suggest that tart cherries can help our body to fight against cancers, aging, neurological diseases and pre-diabetes. They are rich in melatonin, producing soothing effects on the brain, by calming down the nervous system, easing irritability, helping with insomnia and even soothing headaches.
There are many varieties of Cherries but probably the most popular are the deeply colored Bing Cherries, named after a Chinese orchard foreman who helped create the crossbred graft in the late 1800's. Rivaling the Bing's in popularity are the Rainer Cherries, named after our very own Mt. Rainer, with their glossy yellow and red sherbet colored hues. Rainer's have a creamy yellow flesh, with an amazing sweet flavor. Over the last 15 years, the Rainer market has exploded and they have become in highly desirable worldwide. They were created right here at WSU in the 1950's and are primarily grown in the Northwest, with Washington State being the highest producer. They are a difficult and risky crop to grow, because of their fragility, easy bruising, and short growing season. They are difficult to pick and hard to pack because of their delicateness. Because of this, their prices are considerably higher. But boy are they delicious.
Or, if you would like a fun summer experience for the whole family, drive up to Greenbluff and pick your own. Here is a great spotlight on one of our local growers... at the The Farm Chicks Blog-Meet the Farmers.
When working with cherries, make sure to give them an extra good washing. Birds really like to hang out in cherry trees.
During a recent girl's weekend at a summer lake cabin, one of my friends suggested I make a "Cherry Drop", a play on the traditional Lemon Drop (of which I am huge fan ). I took her suggestion and made up a quick batch of cherry simple syrup, flavored with lemon zest. It turned out a deep lovely red, and the hint of lemon brightened up the flavor.
Simple Syrup is basically a mix of sugar, water and any flavorings, heated on the stove until the sugar dissolves. Cool, strain and use this in cocktails, or add to lemonade ( Cherry Lemonade) or sparking water (Cherry Spritzer) for a refreshing summer drink. For this, I chose Vodka.
To make a really chilly, refreshing, frosty Cherry Drop, chill your martini glasses for at least 15 minutes in your freezer. In a martini shaker combine vodka, cherry simple syrup, splash of Quantro or triple sec, and fresh squeezed lemon juice, and ice. Shake up it good and long. At least one minute. When your arm starts to hurt, you know it will be good.
When your cocktail is ready to pour, pull the glasses from the freezer, rub lemon or lemon zest along the rim and dip in a small bowl of sugar.
The Cherry Drop is refreshingly tart. It looks sweet, but it's surprisingly not. I personally am not a fan of sweet drinks, but the nice thing about this is... you can adjust this to your particular palate and liking.
Find your own perfect balance of sweetness and tart. It's different for everyone.
Black Rice Salad with Cherries, Baby Kale, Halloumi Cheese and Mint
Gluten free and vegetarian (and could easily be made vegan), this ultra nutritious black rice, kale and cherry salad is addicting.
Another something new I learned this summer was how to use kale in salads by massaging it with olive oil, salt and vinegar (or citrus) . The massaging action tenderizes the kale and makes it more palatable in a salad. I used a mixture of baby kale and this beautiful Lacinato Kale, a lovely deep blue heirloom variety, that my next door neighbor Barb started from seed in the spring.
Massaging Kale is easy. Pour in a little oil, a little salt and start rubbing the leaves with your hands. You will feel the kale begin to become pliable and tender.
For this salad I used the Rainer's, but really any variety would work.
Its easiest if you pit them with a cherry pitter. You can try cutting them off the pit, but it leaves precious cherry bits behind. But in a pinch it will work. Cut the pitted cherries in half.
Toss your perfectly cooked, strained and cooled black rice in bowl with the massaged kale, pitted and halved cherries, finely diced red onion, and herbs. You could stop at this point and keep it vegan (and maybe adding slivered almonds).
Or...if you haven't tried Halloumi cheese yet, this is a good excuse to buy some. It has a firm texture with a delicious, slightly salty flavor. Its is made from sheep's milk, so those of you who dislike the taste and smell of goat cheese, will not find this off-putting. It is not a crumbly cheese like feta, and needs to be cut with a knife. It holds up really well in salads and I have really come to love it. And just a heads up, it does not melt, so not a good choice for recipes that require melting ( like a quesadilla for example).
Cherry Champagne Sorbet
Add a little agave syrup ( or cherry simple syrup). These cherries were pretty sweet already so I didn't have to add too much. You may be tempted to not add any sweetener...but it is the sugars in the agave or simple syrup help the sorbet not to get rock hard. A splash of champagne ( or white wine) has the same effect and works wonders in the consistency. If you want to brighten up the flavor a bit, add a little lemon juice to taste. Here is where I learned about the importance of sugars and alcohol in making ice-cream and sorbets... he does a great job of explaining the sugar and alcohol component.
Once you have the flavor to you liking, the perfect balance of sweet and tart, place in a ice-cream maker for until almost firm ( 40-50 mins) and freeze for a few hours before serving. This would also make great Popsicles.
I ended up putting a scoop of this sorbet into the Cherry Drop Martini's I made..... and on that hot, sweltering afternoon, after a full day of cooking over a hot stove, it was one of best things ever.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
from New and Selected Poems, 1992
Beacon Press, Boston, MA
1/4 C vodka ( 2 oz)
1/8 C fresh lemon juice
1/8 C Cherry simple syrup ( see below)
Small splash orange liquor (triple sec, or quantro)
Garnish with Lemon Twist or thin sliced lemon
Chill martini glasses for 10-15 minutes in the freezer.
Fill Shaker with vodka, lemon juice, cherry simple syrup and orange liquor and a cup of ice. Shake it up well for 30 seconds to a minute and strain into a sugar rimmed martini glass.
To make a sugar rim, rub lemon or lemon twist along the rim of the chilled glass and dip glass into a bowl of sugar.
Cherry Simple Syrup
( Can make ahead and keep for 1-2 weeks in fridge)
1/2 c water
25 fresh bing cherries -pitted
strips of lemon zest from one lemon
Place all ingredients in a small pot and simmer on the stove until all the sugar is dissolved.. mash cherries up with a fork to extract flavor and color. Let cool. Strain.
Makes 1 Cup ( enough for 8 drinks)
Forbidden Black Rice Salad with Cherries, Massaged Kale and Mint
1 C Forbidden black rice
2 -3 C pitted fresh cherries
2 C Kale packed
1/4 C red onion -small dice
1 C diced halloumi cheese (optional)
3/4 C chopped fresh italian parsley
1-2 T chopped fresh Mint
2 T red wine vinegar
2 T olive oil
1/2 tsp salt
cracked pepper to taste
Boil 1 C black rice in 4 cups water until tender but not mushy. Drain. Run cold water over it to get rice nice and cold.
Pit 2-3 cups cherries. The more the better :)
Place 2 cups ( packed) clean cut up kale ( removing giant stems) in a large bowl. Drizzle with 2 T olive oil and 1/2 tsp salt. Massage leaves with your hands for a few minutes. Leaves will begin to be more pliable. Baby kale takes less time. Add the rest of the ingredients. Toss, taste for salt.
this salad is really good the next day a s well.
Serves 6 (hearty portions)
Sweet Tart Cherry Champagne Sorbet
3 Cups Pitted Bing Cherries
1 cup ice cold water
1-2 T agave ( or more to taste)
1/8 C champagne or white wine
1 tsp lemon juice
Blend in blender until smooth - careful not blend too long, because if the mixture heats up, it will start to turn brown. Strain, and put in ice-cream maker. Churn until semi-firm ( 40-50 minutes).
Place in Freezer for 2-3 hours before serving.
Or put into Popsicle molds.