I have vivid memories associated with cherries–replete with colors, aromas, flavors, textures, sounds, ambient temperatures, and moods. Each one seems to mark some important formative point in my life, some right of passage. It’s a little eerie.
For instance, I can clearly see my 10-year-old self, gangly bare legs scratched and grass stained, high in a craggy cherry tree in the neighbor’s back field, wedged between a couple of large branches, eating ginormous quantities of sweet, lush bing cherries. The sun is high and hot, there is an ornery horse grazing beneath the tree, and I am lazily spitting cherry pits onto his head.
Several years later, I am up the street at another neighbors, babysitting three scruffy kids, all under 7 years old. It’s almost lunchtime and their smudged faces look expectantly at me. A sinking feeling sets in as I scour the cupboards and frig for options and realize that there is virtually no food in this house.
But there is a cherry tree in the yard loaded with ripe pie cherries. With the kids nestled together on the ground looking up at me dubiously, I manage to climb the tree with a paper bag in one hand and pick enough cherries to make a pie. Then back to the kitchen to make the pie crust and filling with what flour, sugar, and shortening can be scrounged. While the pie bakes, I score a forgotten bag of elbow macaroni at the back of an otherwise empty cupboard, a lonely can of peas, and a partial jar of mayonnaise. With these I show the kids how to make a macaroni salad, hamming it up in exchange for giggles, pretending there is nothing odd about this makeshift meal. We eat the marginal salad first, then the delicious warm pie.
In another vignette, I step down a couple of rickety stairs and push open a creaky door into the root cellar of grandma’s old farmhouse. There is the smell of damp, dank air. I pull a cord hanging from the low ceiling, which casts a pale light into the earth-walled room. At the far end, lined up neatly on rough shelves, are hundreds of jars of newly canned fruit. They glisten like exotic jewels in the half light: heavenly peaches, plums, crab apples, pears, applesauce, pie cherries, and sweet cherries. I reach for a jar of crimson-red bing cherries bathed in syrup and feel the cool jar in my hand.
Now that I no longer have cherry trees to climb or grandma’s home-canned cherries to pilfer, I have to buy my cherries at the market just like everyone else. Fresh pie cherries can be especially hard to come by. When I spotted a display of both balaton and montmorency pie cherries the first week of August at the Seattle University District Farmers Market, I was elated–even at $9.00 a pound–and even though it takes two pounds of cherries to make a pie or a crisp. It’s a small price to pay, considering…
Balaton Cherry & Lime Crisp with Toasted Almond Streusel
This combination of tart cherries, lime, lemon, orange, and toasted almond, along with caramelized brown sugar, is irressitible. The best vanilla bean ice cream you can get your hands on is practically required as an accompaniment.
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ cup packed dark brown sugar
½ cup sugar
½ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup butter, very cold, cut into ½-inch pieces
1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon water, cold
6 cups sour pie cherries, pitted (preferably balotin variety; frozen cherries will work in a pinch)
finely grated zest of 1 lime
finely grated zest of 1 orange
2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
½ teaspoon almond extract
½ teaspoon orange blossom water
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
½ cup sliced almonds
- To make the streusel topping, in a mixing bowl, combine the flour brown sugar, sugar, and salt.
- Cut the butter into the flour mixture until mixture is evenly crumbly.
- Combine the vinegar and water and sprinkle over the topping. Mix lightly with a fork, using a lifting motion rather than a stirring motion. The idea is to gently distribute the moisture throughout the topping. Reserve for a moment.
- To make the filling, in a mixing bowl, gently combine the cherries, lime zest, orange zest, lime juice, almond extract, orange blossom water, brown sugar, cornstarch, and salt.
- Butter six, 1½ cup gratin or soufflé dishes.
- Divide the fruit filling between the six dishes.
- Top each dish with an equal portion of the streusel topping, and then top with an equal portion of the almonds.
- Arrange the gratin dishes on an edged baking sheet and lay a piece of foil loosely on top.
- Bake at 350º for ½ hour, remove the foil, and bake an additional 20-30 minutes, until the fruit filling is bubbling and the topping is nicely browned. If necessary, broil for a minute or so or use a kitchen torch to brown the tops.
- Remove from the oven, let cool somewhat, and then serve while still warm, preferably with homemade vanilla ice cream.
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Copyright 2011 Susan S. Bradley. All rights reserved.