As I look out my front window around this time each year I am reminded of two of my life's sweetest and favorite things, my wife Cathy and red, ripe cherries. On our tenth anniversary, now over twenty years ago, I bought her a flowering dwarf Royal Ann cherry tree to mark the occasion and planted it in our back yard. We have lived in two other houses since and I made sure that that tree came with us each time. It now stands strong in our front yard, a testament to our enduring relationship and to my love for cherries.
The tree flowers relatively early, around the same time as our dogwoods and right about now the yellowish red fruit starts to attract flocks of birds who gorge themselves on the juicy, sweet-sour fruit. I salvage some for us but the variety is known more for its ornamental value than for its crop. As a tradition we annually make a cup or two into a chutney or relish but are just as happy to surrender the yield to the birds, squirrels and other wildlife that inhabit our yard.
What our little tree does, however, is predict the arrival of local cherries into our green markets. If you can believe it, most cherries are harvested by hand, probably an arduous task, but to my taste definitely worth the effort. Cherries are a fragile commodity and as such should be handled gently and consumed or prepared soon after purchase. When they do show up in the farmers stalls I usually head right for them and wind up eating half of my purchase while perusing the market. Then I wonder why I didn't pick up some more.
To me red, ripe cherries are best consumed unadorned and out of hand. But as with other short lasting bumper crops they can be preserved in different ways before they lose their luster. Desserts usually come to mind, as well as compotes, jellies, jams and sauces. The aforementioned chutney or relish concoctions can be paired with poultry, veal or pork as an interesting juxtaposition to their rich flesh or spread on a little bread to go with those great, artisinal cheeses you just found at the market. In addition, these preparations can be refrigerated or frozen for whenever your taste buds need a little cherry fix.
Keep an eye out for the local fruits appearance and grab some as soon as you can. Unlike Cathy and me, they are a fleeting affair.
Yield about 4 cups
4 cups pitted cherries
½ cup orange juice
Juice and zest of one lemon
2 oz. roses lime juice
½ cup apple cider vinegar
½ cup light brown sugar
1 cinnamon stick
4 pcs star anise
½ tsp. fennel seeds
1 small red onion minced
½ tsp red pepper flakes
½ tsp Kosher salt.
Combine all of the ingredients in a sauce pan and simmer until tender and slightly thickened. Remove the star anise and cinnamon stick, cool and refrigerate until ready for use.
----- Philip McGrath owns and operates the Iron Horse Grill, which is housed the historic former train station building in Pleasantville. He also owns Pony Express To Go, an all natural fast food restaurant just across the park from the Iron Horse. You can learn more about both by visiting their websites at www.ironhorsegrill.com and www.ponyexpresstogo.com . His Local Chef column appears here weekly.
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