Cherries are a tricky ingredient to work with – the major problem being that they are just so damned delicious fresh that I find it nearly impossible not to eat them all in the preparation stages!
I once lived in a rural house in Switzerland that had an enticing cherry orchard in the back yard. I would climb a tall ladder to pluck copious dark red bunches and fill one basket after another. Hours later I would clamber down, intoxicated with delight at the sight of my pickings. After most of the day spent up a tree my mind would be full of recipe ideas to experiment with but I was often too tired to cook my harvest. It was much easier to eat them immediately in all their glory.
A little further into cherry season when you’ve eaten a sufficient quantity then maybe it’s time to think about letting a few cherries make it into jam, cakes, puddings like pies and crumbles, and even some savoury fare, such as chutney or stuffing for chicken. Or perhaps douse them in brandy or a fruity liqueur and hide them away until winter.
With cooking, the only downside to a cherry obsession is the pitting process – beware as luscious plump cherries can splatter clothing (and often the walls) with their juices. Like deep-red cherry blood this forms a penetrating stain if left to set.
Choose cherries that are glossy, firm, fat and heavy for their size; this state indicates they have been left to grow fully and ripen on the tree. Mass and flavour are lost with early picking so cherries are best when voluptuously fleshy and yielding to the tongue.
I recommend buying at least twice as many cherries as called for in any recipe. This way you can work on the extremely satisfying, tried and true cooking method – one for me and one for the pot!
Chef’s tip: A cherry stoner is an essential culinary tool for any cherry addict as its use speeds up the otherwise laborious pitting process. A bonus is that this nifty gadget doubles as an olive stoner.