Foragers & Herbalists: Hudson Valley Summer Cherries

June 28, 2024

By Merrie Witkin
June 2024

Cherries at Dressel Farms. 

In the Hudson Valley, cherry season is fleetingly short.   Sweet cherries begin to appear at farmers markets and farm stands in mid- to late June, with sour-tart varieties appearing a week or so later, and are available through July if the climate gods cooperate. A number of local fruit farms also offer popular pick-your-own cherries, and tart varieties, used for pies and jams, have an almost cult-like following.[1]  Cherry trees are cold tolerant and can be grown throughout New York, but sweet cherries are more difficult to grow than tart varieties as they are prone to risk of winter injury, early bloom hard frost, bird damage and fruit split due to summer rains, and they require more heat to produce sweet fruit.  Tart cherries are more perishable and have a shorter harvest season. The most common tart varieties available in our area are Montmorency and Morello.  Sweet varieties include Queen Anne and Rainer, both multi-hued varieties, and dark red cherries such as Bing, and Hudson and Ulster varieties, two varieties developed in New York for crack and rot resistance.

 

 

 

How to wash and store

Washing fresh cherries in a mixture of cool water and baking soda helps remove any dirt and remaining pesticides. For every cup of water add a half teaspoon of baking soda. Soak the berries for about 10-15 minutes in this solution, then drain and rinse well in cool water in a colander.  Pat dry and they are ready to serve.  Store the cherries in the refrigerator in an airtight glass or plastic container, or stem and pit them and freeze until ready to use. When you are pitting cherries, it helps to use surgical or exam gloves to prevent the cherries from staining your hands.

Migliorelli Farms stand at Union Square NYC June 14

There are so many ways to cook with cherries, including making jams and jellies for year-round enjoyment. But if, like me, you are not into canning or baking pies in the summer heat, then stick to something that can be simpler and also elegant—for example a cold cherry soup, brandied cherries, or a classic clafoutis.

My cold spiced cherry soup

Cold spiced cherry soup

My fascination with cold cherry soup dates back to when I was a student visiting Budapest.  At that time it was still under communist rule. There, midsummer, I was served a cool bowl with a generous amount of sour cream at the start of a three-course meal. Many traditional Eastern European recipes use sour cream as a thickener, which results in a rich pink soup, and almond extract to enhance the cherry flavor. In my version, I purée the cooked cherries to thicken the soup, resulting in a garnet jewel colored liquid, and a spice sachet with the reserved cherry pits, lightly cracked, which carry a lot of flavor.  The finished soup can be served with dollops of crème fraiche to taste on top and garnished with some of the reserved cooked cherries.  For a summer party, this is a great make-ahead dish. And you remember those crystal punch or wine glasses that your grandma left you that you have always wondered what to do with?  Use them to serve this soup for a bit of fun and elegance.

Ingredients and tools:

  • Immersion (stick) blender
  • Cherry pitter (or a sturdy plastic or metal straw or chopstick)
  • Good sized piece of cheesecloth for making spice sachet
  • 2 lbs fresh or fresh or frozen cherries, stemmed and pitted with pits reserved (Depending on availability and your favored flavor profile, use Morello or Montmorency tart cherries, or locally available dark sweet varieties.) Note:  a quart of fresh cherries can weigh about 1 1/3 lbs.  2 lbs of cherries yields about a half cup of pits.
  • 1 cup water
  • 3 cups dry red wine (such as a local cabernet franc, gamay or varietal blend, or a syrah or grenache, neither of which grow well in our region)
  • 1 cup sugar, or to taste

For the spice sachet:

  • 1 cinnamon stick (at least 2” in length)
  • 2 tsps whole peppercorns
  • 2 strips of lemon peel, pith removed
  • 1/3 cup of the reserved pits, lightly cracked (use a heavy pan or meat pounder to crack them)
  • Crème fraiche or sour cream for serving

Instructions:

  1. Make a spice sachet with the cheesecloth: fold into a square and place the peppercorns, cinnamon stick, lemon peel and 1/3 cup of the reserved cracked pits inside and tie the ends up well.
  2. Put the cherries, wine, water, sachet packet and sugar into a large nonreactive pot. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 20-30 minutes until the cherries are tender but still retain their integrity.
  3. Remove from the heat and strain out the spice sachet, pressing on the cloth to remove the juice, and strain out and reserve about ½-to 2/3 cup of the largest firmest cherries to top the finished soup. Once the soup cools a bit, purée it with an immersion blender.  Taste and adjust the seasoning with a little more sugar if needed for balance and then chill until cold.
  4. Serve topped with the reserved cherries and dollops of crème fraîche.

 

Brandied Cherries with Vanilla Bean

This recipe is adapted from my sister Suzanne’s recipe. Suzanne is a Seattle-based cook and pastry chef who uses cherries from eastern Washington, one of the largest cherry producers in the country.

Ingredients and tools:

  • 2 pounds sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 2 wide strips lemon peel (optional)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 vanilla bean, split lengthwise (or 1 tsp vanilla bean paste)
  • ¾ cup kirsch or other brandy or vodka (for a more neutral flavor)
  • 2-3 glass canning size jars and lids well washed in hot water

Instructions:

  1. Combine cherries, lemon peel, if using, sugar, and ½ cup water in a medium non-reactive pot. Scrape in vanilla seeds (save pod for another use) or add the vanilla paste.
  1. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat; reduce heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until cherries are dark red and softened and have released their juices, 15-20 minutes.
  1. Gently strain and remove the cherries from the pot and transfer them to the jars. Continue reducing the liquid in the pot as needed until it becomes thick and syrupy. Cool slightly, then stir in your liquor. Pour the liquor syrup over the cherries in the jars. Cover and chill in the refrigerator for at least 2 days to two weeks before sampling. Can last several months refrigerated.

These are great over ice cream, in parfaits with yoghurt and shortbread, on cheesecake or in mixed drinks and cocktails.

 

[1] See Leslie Coons Bostian, “Where to go Cherry Picking in the Hudson Valley,” The Valley Table, June 26, 2023.

 

Do you have a favorite recipe for our local, seasonal produce and want to share it? Do you have a topic you would like to write an article and share with others in a future WVLT Field Notes? Please contact us! 

 

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