You can't make everything from scratch

...but you can sure try!

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

When life hands you cherries...

I suppose the punchline should be, "Make cherry lemonade." But it's not.

Last year, it was blueberries; this year, it's cherries. Fortunately, we were marginally more restrained this time around, buying only about 6 pounds of the most fragrant sour cherries we could find at the Guelph farmers market to see what they would inspire.

Once we got them home, the cherries began to deteriorate quickly, even after we put them into the fridge. (And the ones we threw out along the way were quickly adopted by our local fruit flies, who eventually converted our garbage can into a fruit fly nursery. You know what they say: time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a cherry!)

Anyway, we had to act fast. The first thing I did was ask my husband to make me a clafoutis, a traditional French dessert that's sort of like a cross between a cherry pie and a very thick crêpe. We soon followed that with a batch of cherry sorbet, drawing on the method described by Thomas Keller in the Bouchon cookbook. (I'm hesitant to call this his method, since it's so simple that it's likely used by cooks everywhere, even if they've never heard of Keller.) The sorbet was absolutely amazing, with excellent flavour, a great balance of sweet and tart and a wonderful texture. The recipe is below.

Lastly, though, I decided to try my hand at making jam. I've always been hesitant to make my own jam, not because I was worried the jam itself would be hard to make, but because it seemed like so much work to sterilize, fill and process all those jars. Plus I'm a germophobe, so I'm more than a little worried about accidentally my family and friends.

I had a hard time finding a recipe that I liked, but ended up going with this one from Gourmet magazine. We followed the directions to a proverbial T, with the exception that we made only a partial batch, but I ended up quite disappointed with the outcome. Why? Because the jam didn't set! So much for the jam itself not being hard to make.

(In fact, the recipe is for "preserves," which I always thought this was a synonym for "jam," perhaps with slightly larger pieces of fruit. However, I am reliably informed that "preserves" refers to whole pieces of fruit in thick syrup. So maybe it did set as much as the recipe writers intended. If so, though, why add the pectin at all? Clearly I have a lot left to learn about jams, jellies and preserves.)

We also ended up with only 5 jars of... ahem... preserves, and I was right that it is a lot of work to sterilize, fill and process the jars, even though my husband very gamely gave me a lot of help with the whole thing. I'm not one to be daunted in the kitchen, though, and it occurs to me that sterilizing 15 jars can't be a lot more work than sterilizing 8, so I'm going to try again later in the summer. When apricots come out, I'll be sure to set aside enough time to do it properly, and make sure I have enough fruit to make a full batch.

Oh, I also saved a handful of the best cherries in the bunch to dunk into some bourbon. They're sitting happily in my fridge, awaiting their fate at the bottom of my next Manhattan.

Sour Cherry Sorbet
2 pounds sour cherries, net weight (i.e., after you pit them)
1.25 cups granulated sugar
2 Tbsp. lemon or lime juice (We used lime, because it's what we had on hand. You may think the cherries are sour enough on their own that you don't need this ingredient, but we tasted the sorbet mixture both with and without, and it really is necessary for balance.)

Wash the cherries well and pit them, discarding any that are insect damaged. Make sure you have two full pounds of pitted cherries, then puree them with the sugar in batches in a blender. Transfer to a bowl, add the lime juice and stir well. You should have about 5 or 6 cups of mixture. Chill in the fridge overnight.

The next day, process in your ice cream maker according to the manufacturer's directions. Transfer to an airtight container and place in the freezer. It should keep about a week - if you can keep your hands off it that long!