Tag Archives: Cherries

Homemade Cherry Liqueur

cherry_liqueur.JPGIn retrospect this is a pretty straight-forward homemade cherry liqueur, but it was actually inspired by a drink from Normandy called pommeau.  To make pommeau, Normans combine two parts fresh apple juice with one part Calvados (apple brandy), then age the resulting mixture in barrels for several months before bottling.  You can purchase this traditional, aged pommeau at fine liquor stores, but fresh pommeau made with just-pressed cider and consumed without barrel-aging has become one of my favourite parts of the cider season.

This formula (two parts fresh juice, one part spirit made from that juice) occurs in a number of other places.  Pineau de Charentes is another famous example, made with grape must and Cognac.

So I wondered if the same could be done with our local cherries.  I ran fresh Evans cherries through a food mill to make a viscous juice, added a bit of white sugar, then mixed in Kirsch, which is pure cherry distillate.  Not having any local cherry spirit, I used Hugel Kirsch, from Alsace.

The liqueur is the very essence of sour cherry.  It is supremely well-balanced, the bright acidity of the raw cherry juice mellowed by the sugar.  While delicious on its own, it reminded me a great deal of the Danish liqueur Cherry Heering, which suggests that this homemade cherry liqueur is probably useful in mixed drinks.

Hm…

Towards a Sour Cherry Tart

One of the greatest French bistro desserts is tarte au citron, or lemon tart: a rich, tangy curd set in a buttery French tart shell.  In furtherance to ending the tyranny of the lemon in our fair city, I’ve been experimenting with substituting citrus with our local sour cherries.

Background: Classic Fruit Curds

In pastry books there are usually two fruit curd recipes: one for lemon and lime, and another that can be used for almost any other kind of fruit.

Lemon has two traits that let it have its own style of curd: a yellow colour and a very intense acidity.  If you cook lemon juice with enough egg yolks and butter that it sets as a curd when cooled, not only will it have the bright yellow colour we associate with lemons, but the acidity of the lemon juice will cut through the fatty yolks and butter.  If you were to take a lemon curd recipe and substitute, say, blueberry juice for lemon, the fat in the curd would completely overwhelm the weak acidity of the berries, and it would make a tart with an off-putting grey-blue colour.  For this reason there is a second style of curd that is used for basically all types of fruit besides lemons and limes.  To keep a vibrant colour and acidity, the amount of butter and egg yolks must be reduced, which means that the curd must have an additional thickener, usually gelatin and egg whites.

Designing the Sour Cherry Tart

There are three things that I love about our local sour cherries:

  1. Acidity, obviously
  2. Intense, vibrant colours: eg. Evans cherries are the purest, happiest red, Carmine Jewel cherries are deep purple
  3. Distinctive aroma and flavour: eg. Evans cherries have a distinct aroma of almond extract.

An ideal cherry curd would preserve these three characteristics.

In my first experiment with sour cherry tarts I figured that the cherries were sour enough to stand up to the butter-and-yolk barrage of a classic lemon tart.  I simply substituted a strained Evans cherry purée into a class lemon curd recipe.

A slice of Evans cherry tartThe results were this:

  • The final curd was a drab, dusty, sad pink.  I had to add food colouring to make it presentable.
  • The fat of the curd completely blanketed the natural tartness of the cherries.  The final tart had no discernible acidity.
  • Similarly, the more delicate aromas of the cherry (almond) were clobbered and undetectable.  The tart did have a muted, generic cherry flavour.
  • The texture was okay.  Very buttery.  A bit stodgy.

For round two I used Carmine Jewel cherries, and instead of using only butter and egg yolks I used whole eggs and gelatin, with only a touch of butter.

Results:

  • The colour of the curd was fantastic.  Very close to that of the original cherry.  Honestly it reminded me of Beaujolais Nouveau: Purple with a fuchsia tint.
  • While the tart was not fully sour, it did have a pleasant, bright acidity.
  • Still none of the great aroma of the cherries

A slice of Carmine Jewel sour cherry tart

 

So at the very least I know what style of curd the tart needs to use.  One more iteration and I should have a working recipe.  I’ll keep you posted.

 

Evans Cherry

A cluster of Evans cherries, ready for the picking.I’ve known for years that Evans cherries thrive in Edmonton, but I only recently learned that they are actually “from” here.

In 1976 a cherry orchard near Fort Saskatchewan owned by one Mrs. Borward was about to be torn out to make room for a new federal penitentiary, the Edmonton Institution.  Borward invited local horticulturalist Ieuan Evans to take suckers from her plants.[1]

I haven’t been able to find any info on where exactly the Borward cherries came from, but they were a variety of the species Prunus cerasus, commonly known as sour cherry and native to areas around the Black and Caspian seas.  Morello is another example of a variety of that species.  The Borward trees were planted as early as 1923.

Evans found the Borward cherries to be hardy, prolific, and delicious, and started distributing cuttings to friends and colleagues.  Eventually commercial nurseries got on board and started propagating them in the thousands.

Gastronomical Properties of the Evans Cherry: Vibrant red pigments, moist flesh, high acidity, and remarkable aroma.  Several online sources describe the flesh of the Evans as yellow.  I have never found this to be the case: the Evans cherries we harvest are red throughout and make beautiful, crimson pies without the use of food-colouring.  The fruits have moist flesh, so they easily become juice or syrup.  Their high acidity packs a flavourful wallop in drinks and baked goods.  To me the higher aromas of the Evans cherry are what really set it apart from other cultivars.  When Evans cherries reach phenolic ripeness they have the very distinct scent of almond-extract.

The Best Ways to Process/Prepare/Preserve Evans Cherries

  • Pie and Pastry – Cooking with sugar intensifies the natural flavour of the cherry and balances the sharp acidity.  One of the supreme manifestations of the Evans cherry.
  • Rumpot – An important preparation for Evans cherries because it preserves the intense almond-extract aroma of the fruit.  I suspect some day the Evans cherry will make an exceptional spirit.  Of course, distilling at home is very illegal and craft distilleries have to jump through all sorts of hoops to survive in this province.  Even so, I imagine a day when somebody produces an Evans cherry liquor in the style of true Austrian schnapps or Alsatian eau-de-vie: clear, strong, and highly aromatic.
  • Syrups for drinks.
  • Various preparations with chocolate.  Evans cherries are not so different from the sour European varieties traditionally used in desserts like Black Forest cake.

A tub of Evans cherries from a tree in Spruce Grove, Alberta.

 

1. All this historical info is from this brief but informative article originally published by The Edmonton Journal in August of 2006.

Nanking cherry blossoms

Nanking Cherry

I’m starting to research the plants in our yard more thoroughly.  This is the first of several “Plant Profiles” I hope to write.

Prunus tomentosa

“Prunus” means plum (think: prune), and “tomentosa” means densely hairy, referring, I think, to the leaves.  This shrub is native to the far east, notably the Himalayas, China, and Japan.  “Nanking” is the old roman-alphabet word for the Chinese city now transliterated as Nanjing.

As a fruit tree the Nanking is very much inferior to other sour varieties like Evans and Carmine Jewel.  While the fruit is merely adequate, the plant has some striking ornamental qualities.  The mature wood is a lustrous red roan.  When young the shrubs are a bit twiggy and awkward, but as they mature they develop a more open, elegant form with a slight weeping tendency.


The Flowers

These darling buds of May are one of the great pleasures of spring.  The Nanking blossoms appear in our yard around the second week of May, before the leaves have emerged.  They are white with a pink blush that contrasts beautifully with the roan of the wood.  Proverbially ephemeral, the blossoms start to fall off about a week after blooming.

Most sources describe the flowers as fragrant, though ours have very little aroma.

Nanking cherry blossoms

 

The Leaves

Nanking leaves are elliptical, 2-3 inches long, with irregularly serrated edges.  They are deeply veined, and a bit fuzzy, especially on the pale underside.

The alternate pattern of Nanking cherry leaves

 

The fuzzy underside that gives the plant its scientific species name tomentosa:

The hairy underside of a Nanking cherry leaf

 

The Fruit

Nanking cherry bushes need another Prunus plant to pollinate them.  In other words you’ll need to have another Nanking cherry near by, or any type of cherry, or a plum, or an apricot, and so on.  This is currently our biggest hindrance to fruit set.  In years past, though the entire bush erupts in blossoms, only a branch or two has produced fruit.  The spring of 2013, for a handful of reasons including mild May weather, was a fantastic season for pollinators, and most of the branches of our shrub produced fruit.  We are planting a few varieties of sour cherry nearby that will help pollinate the Nanking in future years.

The cherries themselves are quite small, about 1 cm in diameter, but turn a brilliant red in mid July.  Unlike the image of cherries that most of us have in our brains, Nankings are connected to the branches of the shrub by very short stalks.  They do not grow in the drooping clusters, but rather in lines up and down the length of the branches.

While I like Nanking cherries, truthfully they are not half as flavourful as other local sour varieties like Evans.  When ripe they are a good balance of sweet and sour and can be comfortably eaten out of hand, but they don’t have the crazy almond aroma of Evans.  Birds love them: robins eat them whole, and sparrows peck the flesh off the pit.  If we wait till the cherries are truly ripe, roughly half of our already modest crop is taken by birds.  We’re considering netting in future years.

A branch of Nanking cherries

The near-crimson of ripe Nanking cherries.

A bowl of dewy Nanking cherries

 

Pruning

The Nanking sets its buds for the following year in the fall, so pruning is best done in early summer, after the blossoms have dropped.

Bulletin: Exciting Developments in the Field of Fruitcake

Fruitcake, soon to be saturated with Sailor JerryI know I already posted today, but I wanted to quickly tell you about some cutting-edge developments in the composition and aging of the 2012 fruitcake.

Hazelnuts lose their spot to almonds.  For three years now my fruitcake has been poundcake flavoured with orange zest, garnished with glacé Evans cherries, candied Navel orange peel, and roasted hazelnuts.  The cherries are the star.  They bring loads of flavour, acidity to balance the buttery luxury of the cake, plus they’re from Lisa’s dad’s backyard.

Working with Evans cherries over the past couple years, we’ve noticed that their aroma has a distinct note of almond extract.  For some reason this aroma is especially evident in the single-varietal rumpots we’ve made.  This year we decided to substitute the hazelnuts with almonds, to see if they could reinforce or even elevate the great, natural flavour of the Evans cherry.

Appleton rum falls to Sailor Jerry.  I don’t know what I’m supposed to think about Sailor Jerry.  I know lots of kids who drink it because it’s marginally stronger than most brands of rum, and I guess because it’s associated with a tattoo artist, and probably also because it has a charming, trashy pin-up girl on the back of the label.  Its popularity in hipsterdom notwithstanding, in the last year it’s become my favourite spiced rum, mostly because of the boatload of vanilla essence on the nose.  It’s great in Coke for that reason.

Anyways, I’ve decided to age this year’s fruitcake with Sailor Jerry spiced navy rum, instead of the usual Appleton VX.  Maybe spiced rum will overpower or muddle the aroma of the orange peel and cherries.  I don’t know.  Sometimes you have to take risks.

Wild Rice and Barley Pudding

A variation on a Christmas classic, using some local pantry items.

I had some cooked barley in my fridge, remnants of a barley-broth.  I decided to employ the rice pudding method to save the left-overs.  (Rice Pudding Method: a lengthy secondary cooking in sugar and milk.)  The barley sucks up a lot of the milk and releases some starch into the pot.

Once a porridge has formed, cooked wild rice and dried cherries are added, and the whole lot is thickened with butter, egg yolk, and a touch of cream.

Since the wild rice and cherries are added at the end, they stay firm for textural contrast.

Wild Rice and Barley Pudding

Ingredients

  • 235 g cooked pearled barley
  • 300 g whole milk
  • 30 g dark brown sugar
  • 1 pinch kosher salt>
  • 1/2 stick of cinnamon
  • 50 g cooked wild rice
  • 20 g dried sour cherries
  • 30 mL brandy
  • 1 egg yolk with absolutely all remnants of white removed
  • 20 g butter
  • 30 g heavy cream

Procedure

  1. Soak the dried cherries in the brandy.
  2. Put barley in a heavy-bottomed pot and cover with milk, brown sugar, and cinnamon.  Stir to combine.  Bring to the boil then simmer until most of the milk has boiled off or been absorbed, about 40 minutes.
  3. Strain the cherries from the brandy.  Reserve the brandy.  Add the cherries and wild rice to the barley.  Remove the cinnamon stick.
  4. Return to a simmer.
  5. Remove the pot from the heat.  Stir in the butter, then the egg yolk.  Adjust the consistency of the pudding with the heavy cream.  Serve immediately, accompanied by a taste of the cherry-brandy.

Makes 3-4 servings.

Wild rice and barley pudding, with dried evans cherries

Glacé Sour Cherries

A jar of glacé sour cherries“Glacé” is a confusing term because it can refer to ice cream, cake frosting, fruit candied in “hard crack” syrup, or simply fruit preserved in syrup. It’s that last definition that applies here. Most sources I consulted had a similar procedure for making glacé cherries:

Make a simple syrup of one part water and one part sugar.  Bring to a simmer, add pitted cherries, remove pot from heat, cover and let stand over night.  This is simply to infuse the syrup with cherry, and the cherries with syrup. The next day, remove the cherries and reduce the syrup until a candy thermometer reads 230°F.  This gives a good thick-but-runny consistency.   Reintroduce the cherries, simmer briefly, then store in a sanitized jar.

I used to fill my Christmas fruitcake with glacé Bing cherries, but a few years ago I switched to our local Evans cherries instead.  They were so soft after the glacé process I worried they would be too delicate to fold into the dense pound cake batter.  While they definitely don’t hold their round shape like the bings, they managed to stay in one piece.  Their tartness is a welcomed addition to the cake.

The syrup that the glacé cherries are preserved in is fantastic in sparkling water, or cola, or cola and rum.

Dried Sour Cherries

Dried sour cherriesMost sour cherry varieties, like Evans, do dry okay, but it takes forever.  With my dehydrator running on the “Fruit/Vegetable” setting (135°F), it took 30 hours to reach raisin consistency.

The dried cherries are extremely sour, even more so than when fresh (which I should have anticipated…)

I had originally planned to eat these dried sour cherries in yogurt and granola, but they are way too tart to be consumed with tangy yogurt.  Suggested alternative uses: game terrines, “Raincoast Crisp” style cracker, and other applications where there is meat or starch to temper their acidity.  I also love tossing them into puddings, like wild rice and barley.

Sour Cherry Pie

A slice of sour cherry pie with ice creamThis is what God intended us to do with sour cherries like Evans and Carmine Jewel: bake them in pastry.

While I have put a full recipe below, I need to stress that I don’t use a recipe for sour cherry pie. Different cherries have different levels of moisture, sugar, and acidity, and additions of cornstarch and sugar should be varied accordingly.

Put the cherries in a pot and bring to a simmer.  They will release quite a lot of liquid, especially if they had been frozen.  Add the sugar and stir to combine.  Taste and adjust sweetness as necessary.

Prepare a cornstarch slurry of one part starch and one part water by volume.  Stir the slurry into the cherries.  This is the trickiest part of the preparation, as you want the filling to set after the pie has been baked and cooled to room temperature.  When a spoon is dragged through the cherries, it should take a few seconds for the mixture to level out and fill in the trench.  Taste and adjust sweetness.

Cool the mixture to room temperature to make sure that it sets properly.  Then transfer the filling to a bowl and refrigerate until chilled thoroughly.  It’s important for the filling to be cold at the start of baking for two reasons.  First, if you are covering the filling with any pastry, especially a delicate pattern like the lattice, below, the pastry will be much easier to work with if it is resting on cold filling.  If you try to arrange a pastry lattice on warm filling, the fat in the dough will melt and the pastry will be more or less unworkable.  Second, if you put a warm pie into a hot oven, the filling will likely boil over the lattice and over-cook, forming a rubbery skin on top of the pie.

After making a properly thickened filling, the most important part of our pie, and of any pie for that matter, is a properly baked crust.

This is the best pie I ever made, a latticed Evans cherry pie

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sour Cherry Pie

Ingredients

  • 955 g pitted cherries (of the moist, sour variety.  Preferably Evans or Romance, though old world varieties like Morello also work.  This type of pie is emphatically not good with low-acid, firm varieties like Bing.)
  • 185 g white sugar (I like my sour cherry pie to be sour… this quantity of sugar is admittedly low for many)
  • 40 g cornstarch
  • 60 g water
  • pinch o’ salt

Procedure

  1. Put pitted cherries in a heavy pot over medium heat.  As they heat the cherries will release a lot of liquid.
  2. Add sugar.  Taste and adjust sugar content.
  3. Mix cornstarch and water into a slurry.  Add to cherries.  Stir until mixture returns to a simmer.  Adjust consistency with more cornstarch or water as necessary.
  4. Once desired sweet/acid balance and thickness are achieved, pour mixture into a tray to cool