Every June I’m on pins and needles, anticipating the kick off of the East Coast’s all-too-brief cherry season. As soon as those ruby globes hit the farmers’ markets, I’m stuffing canvas bags with as many sour cherries as I can carry.
What’s the allure to sour cherries? Softer and smaller than the sweet varieties, they are a highly versatile, colorful and flavorful fruit. Toss them into a saucepan with a smidgen of sugar and simmer them over low heat and I end up with the foundation for an array of amazing treats. Think I exaggerate? Think again. These guys star in, among other things, pies, tarts, preserves, sauces, meat dishes, drinks and colds soups.
Out of the 1,200 varieties of cultivated cherries, 300 are classified as sour. Within the sour family exist the aptly named Early Richmond, which is the first cherry to appear in spring, the juicy, white-fleshed Montmorency and red-fleshed Morello. Chances are that if you’ve ever drunk the liqueur Kirsch or the cocktail guignolo, then you’ve had Morellos; they form the base of both drinks.
Likewise, if you’ve ever eaten a sundae with a maraschino cherry on top, you’ve consumed a sour cherry. Hailing from Croatia, the petite marasca or maraschino cherry has become synonymous with this dessert garnish.
Whether you plan on making a pie, simmering a sauce or topping off a sundae, remember to look for semi-firm fruit with the stems intact. Store your cherries unwashed and in the refrigerator until you’re ready to use them.
MACERATED CHERRY SUNDAE
2 cups pitted sour cherries
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup Calvados (apple brandy)
2 tablespoons grenadine
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
vanilla ice cream
2 tablespoons almond slivers, toasted
Simmer the cherries, sugar, Calvados, grenadine and vanilla extract over medium heat for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove the pan from from the heat and allow the cherries to cool to room temperature.
As the cherries are cooling, make a sauce for the sundaes. To do this, place ¼ cup of the macerating liquid into a saucepan and boil until reduced by half, 10 minutes. Cool before using.
When the cherries and sauce have cooled to room temperature, put one scoop of ice cream into 4 parfait glasses. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons of macerated cherries to each glass and then cover them with another scoop of ice cream. Repeat and then sprinkle the syrup and equal amounts of almonds over each sundae. Serve immediately.