We have been blessed with an abundance of cherries this year. I have so far picked 22 pounds of sweets, and that was being restrained. Then I caught the end of the red sours and got a demure 13 pounds. I am waiting for the black sour cherries to ripen and then my trifecta will be complete. I don’t know about you, but every time I walk into a cherry orchard brimming with bright red cherries lushly hanging from bowed branches I am in awe. How can this be so? That this abundance can exist? Not only beautiful but nourishing and delicious to boot. All for the picking, as they say. Forget all the technological advances we have made as humans, for me fruit is the true sign of an enlightened culture. And we need all the culture we can get these days.
What to do with all these cherries? Because of course you know how easy it is to pick cherries as opposed to pitting them! Lazy cook that I am, I tuck a good many of them away in the freezer just as they are, pits and all. Most of the stems are removed, and I do rinse them, but otherwise I zip them in a trusty plastic bag (one of my guilty pleasures in this plastic fantastic world—though I do reuse them) and lay them on the rest of the fruit squirreled away in that deep chest in the basement. One day in winter I will pull one of these four-pound bags out of the freezer and savor the memory of the hot summer sun blazing on my head while I picked from these generous trees.
With the fruit that escaped the cold grip of the freezer, I have made a few different things. Cherry pie came first. Then there was a sweet cherry jam with a touch of almond extract–very straightforward. We gorged on many sweets out of hand. On the other cherry hand, the sour cherries are beguiling, so different from their sweet counterparts! I ask you to stick your head in a large bowl or bucket of them and breathe deeply: do you smell the slight spicy note? I think it’s almost like cinnamon, very faint but there. I made a large batch of cherry pie filling which begat sour cherry hand pies and cherry pie cookie bars. The sour cherries make a pie filling bar none. It’s sort of the ur-cherry flavor; the flavor that all fake cherry flavorings are based on. It always takes me back to childhood, and biting into one of those awful but delicious processed cherry pies from the corner deli.
One of my favorite lazy preserving things I like to do is to preserve cherries in a quart jar with alcohol and a little sugar. This year, because I had a large jug of vodka in the house, that’s what I used, but I also like to use brandy. Use what you have! I would never think to use tequila—but a friend of mine swears by strawberry tequila. And gin seems too botanical, but there are some gins that are mellow and smooth without too many vying notes. As in all things, I think experimenting with the flavors you most enjoy is the best tactic to take. Whatever the case, my lazy preserve is this: fill a jar with sweet or sour cherries, leave the pits in because they add a bit of almond flavor, add a half cup of sugar, and top with vodka. Let it sit in a cool dark place for about a month, agitating the jar every so often to disperse the sugar. Make a cocktail with it when it’s ready, and don’t forget the best part: the drunken fruit! I do this with all kinds of whole fruit. Small apricots and Italian prune plums are also spectacular. The fruit stays whole and can be enjoyed as well as the sweetened, fruit-infused liquor.
For more talk on preserving fruit with alcohol, check out this article from the NY Times by Melissa Clark that I am quoted in. From 2010! I stumbled upon it recently, and it’s still a thrill to see my name in the Times.