2003-05-15 - 8:48 a.m.
One of the joys of living in northern California is that no matter where you go, someone is always growing great produce. The summer fruits are just beginning. Yesterday was a banner day: the first cherries were waiting at my favorite afternoon farmer's market stand.
Cherries are a delicate fruit. They need to be picked before it gets too hot, or too much of their sugars are metabolized by the plant and they won't have a full enough acidity. They need for the rain to stop a week or two before picking, so that they don't become watered down or rot.
When you're trying to pick a basket, make sure you taste them. You're after a crunch, a fleshiness, and a full flavor. Many times the deepest, burgundy-colored fruit will be overripe, lacking crispness. Don't be afraid to ask when the fruit was picked. If the vendor's reliable, they'll tell you the truth. If not, well, rely on your sampling.
Then, when you find the right basketful, buy it. Spend whatever you need to. Take them home, rinse them lightly, and eat. Eat them all. Cherries aren't meant for keeping; the fridge will rob them of their flavor and make them go soft. Share if you must.
Or, if you're like me, don't bother with the washing (I buy organic; dirt I can handle). Plop the bag next to you in the car and polish them off before you get home 20 minutes later. Sigh with contentment.
I don't really recommend cooking sweet cherries; their flavors are mellowed to such an extent by heat that the floral overtones and gentle acids are lost. However, a very, very quick saute in a bit of browned butter, flamed with alchohol (my favorite is V. Sattui's Madeira) can highlight the succulence before you tip them over vanilla ice cream. Top with chopped roasted hazelnuts or almonds.
For a savory option, try a salad with a mild camembert, halved cherries and baby red leaf and oak leaf lettuces (also in season, but on their way out due to the CA heat). A vinaigrette of champagne vinegar with a bit of nut oil would be perfect; add a little minced shallot for oniony bite. Some cracked pepper, salt and you're ready. Sounds like a ladies' luncheon kind of dish, doesn't it?
When I catered, I used to serve a pork tenderloin dish. I made paillards (make 1" slices to create rounds; pound between plastic wrap until thin), rubbed them lightly with salt, pepper, dijon and olive oil, then grilled them and served with a room-temperature cherry salsa. The salsa was just diced cherries, a little bit of tarragon vinegar, s&p and shallot. The best bit was that I could prepare the dish ahead and serve at room temperature; in fact, this highlighted the flavors. Much recommended.
If the cherries are ready where you are, enjoy. I'm off to eat a bag for breakfast.
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