The time of the year for buying fresh cherries is happening right now. Prices are affordable and supplies are abundant. But, before you know it, the season will pass and unless you act quickly, you could miss out. That’s happened to me before — but this year, I promised myself that just when prices got as close to being the best they would be, I would buy cherries in quantities sufficient to take on the canning project planned for last year. And, so I did, with the result being eight jars of brandied “maraschino” cherries, a cherry cream cheese pound cake and a fresh cherry pie for last Sunday’s dinner. Of course, sweet cherries are plenty good eaten straight out of hand and, for some, it’s the most anticipated fruit of summer. When you buy cherries, choose those that are shiny, plump and firm, with no signs of mold. (Mold will show up as white spots on the fruit.) Store unwashed cherries in the refrigerator for up to four days, but rinse them before eating. And, for full enjoyment, bring chilled cherries to room temperature before eating. You can freeze fresh cherries, too. Just rinse them, remove the stems and pits and pat them dry with a paper towel. Then, once the cherries have been dried, lay them on a single layer on a cookie sheet and refrigerate for 45 minutes before freezing. (Chilled fruit freezes faster, which helps to preserve the cell structure of the fruit.) Once the cherries are chilled, place the cookie sheet in the freezer. When the cherries are frozen, place them in freezer proof plastic bags or containers. Frozen cherries that have been stored in airtight containers, will keep for up to one year.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cream Cheese Pound Cake with Homemade ‘Maraschino’ Cherries
1 cup (2 sticks) softened butter
½ cup butter-flavored Crisco
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
3 cups granulated sugar
3 cups, plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour,* divided
*(3 cups of the flour will be used for the cake, the remaining 2 tablespoons for dredging the cherries. To measure flour, spoon flour into a measuring cup, then level off with the flat end of a knife.)
½ teaspoon salt
5 large eggs, room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1½ teaspoons almond extract
¾ cup homemade maraschino cherries (recipe follows), drained well and chopped
With an electric mixer set to medium speed, beat butter, Crisco and cream cheese in a large bowl until well blended. Add sugar beating until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at time, mixing well after each addition. In a separate bowl, combine 3 cups of the flour with baking powder and salt. Gradually add flour mixture to creamed mixture in three increments, beating just until combined. Do not overmix. Blot the chopped cherries with a paper towel to remove excess juice, then dredge in the remaining 2 tablespoons of flour. Gently fold cherries into batter being careful not to overmix. (The cherries will turn your batter pink.) Spoon the batter into a greased and floured large (14-cup) tube pan. Bake for 75 to 80 minutes or until cake tests done. Let cake cool in pan for 10 minutes, before removing cake to cool on a wire rack.
Makes 12 servings.
Make-Your-Own “Maraschino” Cherries
Although these homemade “maraschino” cherries, made with sweet dark cherries, are light years ahead of the imitation maraschino cherries that top ice cream sundaes and adorn Shirley Temple cocktails, they still do not resemble genuine sour maraschino (or marasca) cherries. Authentic maraschino cherries , originally grown in what is now Croatia, is used to make maraschino liqueur. The liqueur, which derives its almond flavor from crushed marasca cherry pits, is also produced in Italy. Examples of brands of maraschino liqueurs are Maraska (from Croatia) and Luxardo (from Italy).
2 pounds dark sweet cherries, rinsed and pitted
(leave the stems on a few cherries for effect, otherwise remove the stems, as well)
1 tablespoon, plus 1½ teaspoons almond extract
For the brining solution
2 quarts water
1 tablespoon Morton pickling salt (does not use table salt or you will be using too much salt)
Place cherries in a large bowl; set aside. Bring water and salt to a boil. Let sit for 10 minutes, stirring to be sure the salt is completely dissolved, then pour over reserved cherries. Cover and allow to brine for 12 hours, or overnight. The next day, drain cherries (you do not need to retain brine), then rinse very well with cold water to remove the salt; set aside to make the syrup. (If your cherries taste salty to you, don’t worry — the taste will dissipate once the cherries are fully marinated in the syrup.
For the syrup
1 (16-ounce) bottle POM Pomegranate Cherry 100% Juice*
1 cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
½ cup Karo® light (in color) corn syrup
¼ cup cherry-flavored brandy, optional*
*Besides adding flavor, using the brandy will help to preserve your cherries
Combine the juice, sugar and lemon juice in a 4-quart saucepan. Over medium-low heat, stir mixture constantly until sugar dissolves. Raise heat to medium-high and bring mixture to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Stir in corn syrup and simmer for 10 minutes more. Remove from heat, then strain mixture, removing any remaining foam. Pour strained mixture over reserved cherries. Cover and allow to stand for 24 hours. Drain cherries, reserving juice. Set cherries aside. Bring reserved juice to a boil again. Remove from heat, then stir in almond extract and brandy (if using), mixing well to combine. Fill four (½-pint) jars halfway with liquid, then add cherries to each jar, leaving a ¼-inch head space.* (Be sure cherries, including any stems, are completely submerged in the liquid.) Allow to cool to room temperature, then cover tightly. Refrigerate for at least 2 days before using to give flavors a chance to blend. Will keep, refrigerated, for up to two weeks without brandy, for several months if brandy is used, or process in a hot water bath according to a canning guide’s directions, or the instructions found at the National Center for Home Food preservation website at: http://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/GUIDE%201%20Home%20Can.pdf. Makes 4 (1/2-pint) jars of cherries in syrup.
*Kitchen Ade Note: If you have leftover syrup, refrigerated and save for mixing into beverages made with ingredients like club soda, cola or orange juice. POM brand pomegranate-cherry juice is an all-natural produce made with 51 percent pomegranate juice and 49 percent cherry juice. Look for it in the refrigerated juice section of your supermarket.
Fresh Cherry Pie
4 cups pitted fresh cherries*
1½ cups sugar
3 tablespoons Kraft MINUTE Tapioca
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1 package (15-ounces) ready-to-use refrigerated pie crusts (2 crusts) or homemade pastry for a double crust,
1 tablespoon butter or margarine, cut up
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss cherries with sugar, tapioca and extract. Let stand 15 minutes.
Prepare pie crust as directed on package for 2-crust pie, using 9-inch pie plate. Fill with cherry mixture. Dot with butter. Cover with second pie crust. Seal and flute edge. Cut several slits in top crust to permit steam to escape. Bake 45 to 50 minutes, or until juices form bubbles that burst slowly. Cool. Makes one 9-inch pie. *May substitute frozen sour cherries, thawed and drained, for the fresh sour cherries.