Monday, June 23, 2014


With a Cherry on Top

 Bits and tangles of tin foil fluttering in the breeze, flicking rays of sun around the garden like daylight fireflies. Scintillating. Like tinsel on a Christmas tree.

 Or plastic bags and bits of cloth like those wish trees we saw on our honeymoon in Cyprus.

 Fat magpies and ravens, with just a touch of violence, and tiny little sparrows, graceful and light, swoop down irreverently ignoring the quivering, flapping, ruffling beat, the dance of the foil, the plastic, the bits of cloth tied to the branches of the cherry tree explicitly to chase them away.

 But who could blame them? Plump, shiny bright, deep red cherries dot the tree, swinging gently with the sway of the branches in the breeze. The promise of something sweet and juicy.

 Early morning and we wander barefoot through the dew-damp grass and peer excitedly upwards, the sun filters through the lush green and we search out the ripe fruit as we plan an afternoon picking, thinking of what we will bake with the harvest, all that won't be eaten straight from the tree. Yet the cherries are gone. What remains has been pecked, leaving gaping wounds bleeding cherry juice, now rotted and inedible. For all our effort, those birds refused to heed the warning and have eaten all of the cherries.

Can She Bake a Cherry Pie?

 Cherry pies, apple and blueberry pies. And pumpkin at Thanksgiving. The freezer would be well stocked with ready-made pie shells, the cupboard flush with cans of filling in every fruit – and pumpkin – flavor. Open and bake, cut a thick wedge for each one of us, and top with a lavish dollop of Cool Whip. Every night was a fête.

 Cherry was always my favorite.

 I baked my first cherry pie in a house in the suburbs of Paris. An American cherry pie for a French family. Fresh cherries bought at the tiny little primeurs near the train station. The double crust was so yellow, the bright yellow of French egg yolks, the very yellow of French butter. Rolled out clumsily, dough pushed and pinched together, cherries pitted by hand with a paring knife and tossed with sugar and cornstarch. A lovely lattice crust.

 A French family who couldn't fathom the joy and comfort of a home baked cherry pie.

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

 My husband's parents retired to a tiny little village, barely 300 souls, in the middle of nowhere. A tangle of tiny streets were lined with old stone houses, abodes of poor farmers in former days and some still, the village being surrounded as it were with apple orchards and fields of cows, rapeseed and beets. Their house was one of the newfangled modern things that was appendaged onto the old part huddled around the medieval church and old village well, a new house in unbecoming beige cement and dull chocolate brown shutters perched ungraciously and oh so inconveniently upon a hill.

 In the center of their yard stood a magnificent cherry tree, tall and stately, branches spread every which way, leaves lush, cherries abundant all summer long. As soon as the cherries burst forth around the middle of July, branches groaning under the weight of the fat, red fruit, we would gather under that cherry tree and, staring up, discuss our strategy. For, you see, the cherries were very high requiring a ladder to reach above even the bottom row of branches yet the ground under and around that tree was anything but sure. One side sloped making a ladder or chair perilous, indeed. And the big, chunky roots splayed out in a dangerous web, making a ladder downright impossible. But those cherries were so good, so flavorful we were determined to pick them all.

 And an entire Saturday of July was devoted to picking cherries. Scrambling up in the branches, or taking turns spotting the ladder for the other, which leaned falteringly against the trunk. Standing on old plastic garden chairs hanging on for dear life with one hand, the other grabbing cherries, my mother-in-law's battered old aluminum colander wedged between two branches to catch the harvest. All the best cherries seemed to be just out of reach for of course there was only so high we could go. 

 Exhausted, we finally give in and give up, loathe to leave the beauties still hanging, grabbing one, two, three more pairs one second I'm coming, I'm stopping now I promise just one more! The rest sacrificed to the birds who come to the feast during the wee hours of the morning while we sleep, before we wake, before we have the chance to gather up a second wind and attempt to pick the rest on the Sunday before heading home.

 In the cherry blossom's shade, there's no such thing as a stranger. – Kobayashi Issa 

Cherry Pickers

 Little maraschino cherries, glistening like bright jewels, tempting. They are so pretty. Plopped into a Tom Collins or an Old Fashioned, drinks for the parents. Or pushed into a swirl of whipped cream sitting atop a double scoop of ice cream, banana split, dotted with chocolate sprinkles. Sparkling. So feminine. To like or not to like a maraschino cherry, that is truly the question. Some years yes, some years no. There has been and always will be something so adult, a tad bit decadent, about popping a maraschino cherry into one's mouth, the hint of alcohol, the sweet whipped cream. There is something so 1960's about them, cruise ships and cocktail parties.

 I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees. - Pablo Neruda

Le Temps des Cerises

 Clafoutis. What is cherry season without clafoutis? Big black cherries (pitted or no?) tumbled into a baking dish and blanketed under a smooth batter (flan or crêpe?) smelling of milk and vanilla. Big black cherries peeping through the creamed preparation as if just keeping their heads above water. Baked, the shivering, wobbly flan hugs those big black cherries that seemingly haven't budged a whistle but oh a mouthful reveals the truth. Cherries gently poached in batter burst in an explosion of pulp, sweet cherries even sweeter, juicy cherries even juicier. Cherry season, le temps des cerises, means clafoutis to every Frenchman and woman.

 A pair of cherries joined at the stem top, suspended, drooping gently. Hung over a lover's ear, a child's ear, pendant. Perfect summer wear, a pair draped over each ear.

 A cherry year, a merry year.

Cherry season isn't complete without a warm cherry clafoutis. My cherry clafoutis is not like a traditional French one because here the cherries are caramelized before being added to the egg batter, leaving a sweet syrup to pour over the top.

4 servings

200-300 g/ 7-10.5 oz pitted and divided cherries
a knob of butter
3-4 tbsp sugar
1/2-1 tsp cinnamon
4 eggs
75 g/ 2,65 oz flour
150 ml/ 0,63 cup fresh cream
200 ml/ 0,85 milk
4 tblsp sugar
1 pinch salt
1/2 tsp finely grated lemon zest

   Melt the butter in a small skillet, add cherries, cinnamon and sugar and cook slowly until caramelized. Stir or shake the skillet now and then. Put aside.

    Whisk eggs and flour quickly until smooth, then add cream and milk together with sugar, pinch of salt and lemon zest and mix it well.
Butter an oven-proof form and pour the batter into it. Distribute the caramelized cherries over it all  (but reserve the sauce for serving) and bake in a pre-heated oven (175°C/350°F) for 25-30 minutes or until the cream has set and is slightly golden. Be careful not to bake it too long as it easily goes a bit dry.
   Drizzle the sauce over the clafoutis before serving.

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  1. Lovely simply lovely and this clafoutis is getting made this afternoon. Perfect timing... life can sometimes be a bowl full of cherries ;D have written about that before too...

  2. I love this! So summery and...voluptuous. And that quote: "I want to do to you what spring does with the cherry trees." I think I shall teach The Beloved to say that to me. As I feed hims caramelized cherry clafoutis. :)

  3. Lovely, evocative, summery read as I sit in my fluffy slippers, trying to coax just a little more heat from the fire and listening to the winter wind roar around my house on the hill.

  4. Oh, you have done me in. Our cherries are hitting their peak just now. The clafouti recipe is golden.

  5. Another beautiful post... love cherries, absolutely adore them... and clafoutis too... but as it gets so hot here in summer, it's more of a winter dessert for me. I use preserved morello cherries.

  6. I saw the thumbnail of the first photo on a link in FB to this article and I thought it was Cherries Jubilee. I exclaimed to myself, 'How bold to use a silver bowl!' Now that's really festive!

    Cherry pie is my favourite too, Jamie. J'adore cherry pie. Almost as much as cherries jubilee....

    The best cherries are always out of reach, aren't they? But it's tragic that the birds get the ones that are in reach!

    Favourite photos: the cherries in the sardine can, the pie plate with the pits, the cherries strung together with needle and thread.

    Ilva, your clafoutis sounds great. I really like the idea of the cherries being caramelized first.

  7. I can't wait for cherry season to come around again in my part of the world. I remember cherry "earrings" from when I was a kid. My parents had a huge spreading tree in their garden and my two sisters and I would swan around the yard with cherries hanging on our ears and daisy chains around our necks - Carmen Miranda eat your heart out. :)