Sour cherry season’s here!
Contrary to their sweet siblings, sour cherries aren’t pleasant to eat straight off the tree – unpleasant being an understatement, considering the look of sheer panic on my youngest’s face after she unsuspectingly put one in her mouth. However, with their tart, concentrated cherry flavour these bright red little gems are wonderful to cook with and make the best cherry cakes, jams and cherry-infused beverages. They’re not always easy to come by. In our country only a few orchards grow them. Moreover, with their thin skins and loose stalks they bruise easily and don’t keep long, which also means few veg shops sell them. So if you do happen to live in the vicinity of a pick-your-own farm, or you have friends or relatives with a tart cherry tree in their garden, it’s highly recommendable to seize the opportunity, get up that ladder and help yourself to some of this summer goodness.
Last week a dear friend of mine surprised me with a freshly picked bucketful of them, plus a hot tip on how to stone them (see below!). I set to work the very next morning to make the most of this unexpected treat. The result: a batch of naturally sweetened oven-dried sour cherries to dress up my zesty almond granola, and this lemon and vanilla flavoured sour cherry compote.
This sour cherry compote is simplicity at its best: just simmering the cherries with lemon, sugar and fresh vanilla turns them into full-flavoured tart syrupy goodness in mere minutes. It’s delicious spooned straight from the pan over warm porridge or ice cream, and equally delicious eaten cold with yogurt, granola or overnight oats.
As it doesn’t contain a very high amount of sugar, this compote isn’t made for long storage. With the pound of cherries used, the resulting bowlful is just enough to spoon over just about anything and finish within a week.The fresh washed and stoned cherries keep very well in the freezer, though, so if you keep a few portioned batches at hand for cooking at a later time, you’ll be able to treat yourself to the sweet taste of summer any time you fancy.
Top tip for stoning your cherries
When it comes to stoning the cherries, there are several methods you can use. You can halve the cherries and pick out the stone with your knife or fingers. This leaves you with halved cherries, which can be what you want, for example if you want to dry them. If you want to end up with whole cherries, you can push out the pit with a skewer or a straw. I own a metal cherry stoner, which should make life very easy. However, as, like the skewer and straw method, it’s designed to push the pit out through the bottom of the cherry, the job can get quite messy and the cherries end up with a big hole in them.
When I expressed my concern to my friend about the 16 pounds (!) of cherries she had waiting for her to stone and freeze, she said: “Ah well, I’ll just do it the way my grandmother used to and then it won’t be any trouble.” She showed me how and the magic tool used turned out to be a safety pin. Push the back side of a saftey pin into the cherry at the point where the stalk used to be, until the tip is underneath the stone. Then use the little ring at the rear end of the safety pin to pull out the stone. Once you get the hang of it, it’s a breeze, without the splattering juices, and you’ll end up with beautifully round, unpunctured cherries.
Sour cherry compote with lemon and vanilla – makes 1 large bowlful
- 160 ml water
- 120 g raw cane sugar
- zest and juice of 1 lemon
- ½ plump vanilla pod, slit lengthwise
- 500 g washed and stoned sour cherries (stoned weight)
Put the water, sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest and vanilla into a saucepan. Bring to a boil and simmer over a medium heat, until reduced by half.
Add the cherries. Leave to simmer for 3-5 minutes, until the cherries are soft and wrinkled and the juices have turned syrupy.
Serve warm with porridge or ice cream, or leave to cool and serve with plant based yogurt, almond granola and fresh sweet cherries for a cherry-laden summer breakfast.
The cooled compote will keep in the fridge for up to a week.