Every year at this time, a rush rushes to the farmers market to buy sour cherries. People stand in long lines, buy multiple packages and brag about their shipping and from which farm. I’ve been into this part of cherry culture in the past, too, but when I think about all the fuss, it’s really only worth it to me if you’re just eating the cherries raw from your hands.
And I know what you’re thinking – “Um, hello, that’s the best way to eat them” – but I actually love the taste of cooked cherries more than they do raw. When I think about having to break up all those cherries to use in a cake, jam, or burger, I really stop and think, “Wait, what am I doing? Is this worth it? ”
Usually not, even when using a great cherry. Must wear an apron, set up a grocery bag as a cherry pit station to prevent the “Stairway” ladder from splashing and then stand or sit there for an hour or more, depending on how many cherries you need get through, doing the same motion over and over. The process of pitting cherries can yield a lot of philosophical thinking.
So truth be told, if I don’t eat raw cherries, I choose canned or canned cherries instead, which are already pitted. Before you email me in a fit of rage, think about it: Those precious sour cherries you buy at the farmers market are very expensive, and once you mix them with sugar and vanilla and bake them into cakes or desserts. For other desserts, any flavor nuance will lose out to the overall flavor of “cherry.”
Also, California’s sour cherry season is very short – I’m talking just a few weeks – so growers will often freeze or maybe somehow preserve the crops when they’re at their peak of perfection. Plus, there are many high-quality canned or bottled cherries available at grocery stores.
If you’re looking for sour cherries, which don’t really grow much in California, buy Oregon specialty fruit canned cherries brand is my recommendation. I’ve used that brand throughout my career and even toured its factory, so I can attest to the quality. I like canned “sour red cherries” whole and soaked in water, not syrup, so I can control how much sugar goes into them. And if you want to use frozen cherries, I like Friske Orchards Montmorency Cherry from upper Michigan, the part of the country where the fruit grows best. When using frozen cherries, be sure to defrost them first, then drain and weigh the cherries to make sure you get the correct weight.
Now, how to best show off your sour cherries? I love the classics and often marry making an iconic cherry pie. I created the best version to date of my first cookbook, “Sweet & Southern,” using cherry jam and kirsch (cherry eau de vie) for an extra dose of cherry flavor. However, the only downside to getting a picturesque slice of cherry pie is using a lot of cornstarch to help thicken the juices so they don’t ooze out of the crust as you cut in. Honestly, I don’t mind making the filling thicker, but I know many people who have an unpleasant feeling about cornstarch and any noticeable traces of it. So I came up with a cherry cutter, instead allowing the baking dish to give structure to the cherries.
When I hear the cobbler, my mind goes back to my childhood in Mississippi: bubbly fruit baked beneath a crust of pie crust, not cookies. It gives you the “pie” without the work. It also allows for the perfect balance between soft pies with crisp golden browns. And because the fruit sits underneath the rind and is rustically scooped out into the bowl, nothing more than a few tablespoons of cornstarch is needed to create a slick texture that’s perfect for cherry juice.
But this isn’t just any kind of cobbler cherries. I like to mix some of my whiskey with lots of lemon zest and juice to mimic the taste of sour whiskey, featuring a maraschino cherry as a garnish. The whiskey pairs well with cherries – and any stone fruit – and the lemon provides a pleasant mild acidity that amplifies the tartness of the tart cherries. I even use turbinado sugar, in all its mild glory, as that sugar is often the sweetener of choice for mixing into such cocktails. For the final taste, I wanted to add a little bit of cherry bitterness to the filling to create a different cherry flavor, but this one is more bitter to balance out all the sweet and sour underneath.
When the filling is ready, you have two ways to coat the cake. Some restaurants in the South wrap the fruit in a pastry shell, like a cupcake, and cut a few slits in the top so it can escape. This is totally fine, but I actually award more crumbs in my cobbler set, so years ago I came up with an alternative method to maximize that.
When making cupcakes throughout the year, I always save the crumbs from my crust and put them in a plastic bag in the freezer. Once I accumulated about a pound of scrap, I knew I could make a crusher. I just flicked the frozen strips into bite-sized pieces with my fingers and spread them over the filling so they resembled pebbles – a more authentic tribute to the dessert’s name, I think. Obviously now, this approach requires you to have a ready supply of frozen scrap (which I highly recommend if you make a lot of cupcakes).
Luckily and alternatively, you can make a pastry crust, just cut it into strips and freeze them until solid and ready to use. This way is much faster, if not novel, but sometimes speed wins. As the pastry coats the fruit, I sprinkle some turbinado sugar on top for extra crunch and sprinkle with flaky sea salt because why not? After an hour and some changes in the oven, the blender will come out with a 50-50 split between the bubbly cherries and the buttery crisps.
That is the best thing to do with cherries to help you overcome this condition without the pain of memory pitting. And that makes the whole affair much sweeter than sour.
Get the formula:
Time1 hour 45 minutes, mostly unattended, plus 1 hour freeze
https://www.latimes.com/food/story/2022-06-02/whiskey-sour-cherry-recipe-canned-frozen-lemon-pitted Should good cooks use fresh or canned cherries for cobbler?