Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Cry cherry ripe
The last of the cherry crop was picked on my father’s farm yesterday – like asparagus, the English cherry season is brief and all too fleeting. Yet that is part of what makes these foods so special – and we can lose that sense of specialness when we see cherries and asparagus and other seasonal delicacies sitting in the supermarket all the year round. These are foods which have a wonderful and unique intensity of flavour if eaten fresh, and that fullness of flavour is lost when they are picked unripe and freighted halfway across the world.
So please do eat your cherries fresh, and eat them local – and enjoy that specialness, knowing that for a few brief weeks you can wallow in their profusion, savour the taste – and then enjoy dreaming about that bliss and revelling in anticipation of next summer. A treat is not a treat if you can eat it every day.
And, of course, all is not lost – you can capture some of that bliss in a jar. Rush out and buy a last box of cherries, and make some delicious cherry jam to slather on your toast all winter.
There is, as there is with all things, one snag. Cherries have stones – and it is rather unfortunate that with jam-making you can’t just spit them out as you do when you eat them (by the bowlful in my case). What a pity!
But the stones also have one advantage – they do add flavour to the jam. You can stone the cherries before jamming (but save the stones and hang in a makeshift muslin bag attached to the pan handle while you boil the jam, so that you get the benefit of the flavour). Be warned – stoning cherries is quite messy, and your hands may well turn purple.
The alternative is to skim off the stones at the end – they are supposed to float to the top, and this is what I have done before. However, in our jolly little kitchen the Head Chef chose to stone the cherries after the initial simmer to soften the fruit. This involved plunging his hands into the pan of stewed cherries and groping about randomly. Luckily the jam was boiled thoroughly afterwards.
I would not recommend this method as it will definitely turn your hands and wrists purple, and I still found a stone in the first spoonful I spread on my toast. But the choice, of course, is yours.
And just to show you that you don’t need a large or well-equipped kitchen to make such delicacies – all summer we cook on a two-ring burner, and sterilize the jars in a mini-oven.
And if you have missed the cherry season, then don’t despair: it will soon be time to make hedgerow jam. The brambles and elderberries are coming on – and they don’t have any stones!