When fresh cherries and berries are in season and offered at good prices, like they are now, we just can’t get enough. Whether eaten out of hand, or used for recipes, they sure disappear quickly. Even the ones planned for storage in the freezer never seen to make it that far. If they’re not gobbled up as snacks, they vanish rapidly into pancake batters, desserts, smoothies and, if you’re feeling creative, savory sauces for entrées. While much of the fresh cherries and blueberries we purchase turn up at breakfast in jams and for desserts in cobblers, few utilize summer fruits in chutneys or sauces as an accompaniment to grilled foods. And, that’s a pity — as the colors of mahogany red Bing cherries and deeply hued blueberries are striking contrasts alongside the white interiors of grilled chicken, pork and fish. Besides their role as escorts to grilled foods, chutneys also make superior companions to cubes of cheese baked inside squares of store-bought puff pastry. Served with a glass of wine, these puffy baked chutney bites make excellent eating while waiting for the grill to heat. There are still weeks ahead of us for grilling, but the season for many summer fruit favorites, especially at these prices, goes by in a flash.
Sue Ade is a syndicated food writer with broad experience and interest in the culinary arts. She has worked and resided in the Lowcountry of South Carolina since 1985 and may be reached at email@example.com.
Fresh Cherry Chutney
1 pound dark, sweet Bing cherries
½ cup rice wine vinegar
½ cup brown sugar
½ medium green bell pepper, seeded, membrane removed and chopped
½ medium red bell pepper, seeded, membrane removed and chopped
¼ cup golden raisins
1 small onion, chopped
Juice and grated zest of 1 medium orange
1 (2-inch) piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
¼ teaspoon allspice
¼ teaspoon cardamom
¼ to ½ teaspoon dried hot red pepper flakes (add smallest amount to saucepan first)
Salt and fresh ground black pepper
Rinse cherries, then pit them over a medium heavy-bottomed saucepan (you’ll want to catch the juices for making the chutney); discard pits. To the saucepan, add the remaining ingredients, except for the salt and ground black pepper. Bring mixture to a boil, then lower heat to a simmer, simmering, uncovered, for 40 to 45 minutes or until thick. Season with salt and ground black pepper, to taste, then keep warm. Makes about 1½ cups.
Quick Chutney-Cheese Bites
1 (17-ounce) box Pepperidge Farm puff pastry sheets
1 (8-ounce) block of Fontina cheese
½ cup chutney (homemade or store bought)
Cut cheese into 16 cubes. Thaw pastry and cut each sheet into 8 squares. Fit squares into the wells of a mini-muffin tin. Place each cheese cube onto the pastry, then divide chutney evenly over the cheese. Bake in a preheated 400-degree oven until pastry is golden brown and cheese is bubbly, about 15 minutes. Remove tins from oven onto a wire rack to cool, allowing pastry to set, about 5 minutes. Carefully remove pastries from tin, being careful not to burn yourself on the hot chutney filling. Makes 16 appetizers.
Sweet-Tart Blueberry Sauce
2 cups blueberries
½ cup dry white wine
2 tablespoons sugar
½ cup grape juice
¼ cup blackberry brandy
2 tablespoons dark balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons honey
1 (2-inch piece) fresh ginger, peeled and left whole
1 shallot, peeled and left whole
2 to 3 pieces star anise (use 2 pieces if anise pieces are large, 3, if small)
1 cinnamon stick
1 tablespoon butter
Set aside ¼ cup blueberries. Place remaining blueberries, wine and sugar in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Bring to a boil. Lower heat, cover and cook for 10 to 15 minutes, until berries are soft and broken, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat, and push berries (with liquid) through a strainer, reserving juices; discard pulp that remains in strainer. Return berry liquid to saucepan, adding the grape juice, brandy, vinegar, honey, ginger, shallot, anise, cinnamon and butter. Stirring occasionally, simmer sauce until it is thick and syrupy. (Be patient, it may take up to 30 minutes, or more, for sauce to thicken.) Before serving, remove ginger, shallot, anise and cinnamon and stir in reserved blueberries. Makes about 1¼ cups.
How to Store and Freeze Fresh Cherries and Blueberries
Choose cherries that are shiny, plump and firm. Their skins should not be broken and the stems intact, which helps to prolong shelf life. White spots on cherries are signs of mold and should be avoided. Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to four days. Rinse cherries just before eating; for best flavor, bring cherries to room temperature before eating.
To freeze cherries, rinse, remove stems and pits and set out on paper toweling for 10 minutes. (Cherries may also be frozen with their pits.) Lay cherries in a single layer on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 45 minutes, before freezing. (Chilled fruit will freeze faster and helps to prevent freezer burn by minimizing damage to the fruit’s cell structure.) Once cherries are frozen, place in plastic bags or freezer containers. Store frozen cherries for up to one year.
Some people don’t wash blueberries before freezing because to do so can toughen their skins. But, because I often bake with frozen blueberries and add them to batters directly from the freezer (frozen blueberries that have been allowed to thaw will “bleed” into batters), I always rinse the blueberries prior to freezing. After berries are rinsed, air dry or dry on paper towels, removing any stems that remain on the berries. Place berries in a single layer on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 45 minutes before placing baking sheet in the freezer. Once blueberries are frozen, pack in freezable containers, sealing well. For best flavor, use frozen blueberries within one year.