12 Jul 2018

Five kilos of cherries


July is the month of soft fruit and I absolutely adore the sight of ripe red cherries hanging from the trees in my garden - even knowing that the cherries in question are not sweet cherries. At the time the garden was repurposed for food growing, our group chose sour rather than sweet cherries. I'm not altogether sure that we knew what we were doing; I expect someone recognised the name Morello, perhaps from a delicious jar of store bought jam, and thought that was the cultivar to go for.  As it happens, it was a good decision in terms of location (Morellos don't mind a bit of shade) with the bonus that birds leave the fruit alone ... on the whole.

Once the fruit ripens, it pays to act fast. I noticed the cherries starting to blush in mid June - slightly early this year - and two weeks later they were ripe enough to pick. If left for much longer, the juice attracts ants, and possibly wasps, and the fruit becomes sticky, pockmarked and spoiled.

Right from the start our trees were happy and produced a teeny crop in the first year.  This year I was astounded to discover I'd picked FIVE kilos of ripe fruit from those two little trees.  I'd like to say that the bumper harvest was due to my tender ministrations and be able to dispense advice on how to achieve same but, to be honest, I did nothing other than prune out branches that stuck out at eye level. The late spring and warm sunshine must have given the blossom plenty of opportunities to be pollinated.


So. What exactly do you do when you suddenly have five kilos of cherries in your kitchen and very little time?

As ever with an abundance, it's good to share the bounty with neighbours and friends if you can.  I offloaded two kilos and after that the task ahead wasn't nearly so daunting.

With family away on holiday, I didn't want to make anything that had to be eaten straightaway. Cheesecake topped with cherries is delicious but might cloy when you have to eat the whole thing by yourself; ditto for Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall's cake with soft fruit recipes in the Guardian. The hunt was on; cookery and preserve books were pulled from the shelves.

Jam crops up a lot when searching for Morello recipes - Sarah Raven's recipe is here - fine if you don't mind putting unhealthy amounts of sugar in your cooking but, as Hugh F-W points out in the above linked article, the flavour of the fruit is somewhat sacrificed in the pursuit of preserving it. Even more relevant is the knowledge that sugar is so bad for our health. He recommends a halfway house of compote - cooking the fruit lightly using just a little sugar.

After reading a lot of recipes (most of which used sweet cherries), I opted to freeze most of my sour cherries - washed, stone left in, spread in a single layer, then bagged up for future use. It took no time to make a dish of compote and was surprisingly delicious.  The remainder I popped into a sterilised jar and covered with a sugar syrup as an alternative method of preserving. (Methods below.)

Only yesterday as I did some food shopping, I was inspired to remember that the Rhubarb and Rosewater Tart that I wrote about last year could easily be converted to a Morello Cherry Tart. The rhubarb is laid on top of a frangipane filling so, just leave out the rosewater and top with fresh Morello cherries instead of rhubarb and bake as instructed.

The same would apply to a rhubarb traybake recipe I found last year on the Tesco website - basically it's a sponge base, then a layer of rhubarb (or cherries), topped with oats and nuts. I remember it being particularly scrumptious. Link here.

Gardener's tip:
I have two Morello cherry trees, both planted nine years ago although one was moved to a north/east facing corner bed two years later to prevent overcrowding. They're shallow rooted so easy to move when small. Morello is the one type of cherry that will thrive in an east facing border; mine get morning sun then are in shade by early afternoon.  By pruning in July/August (after the fruit is picked), I've been able to keep the trees relatively small.  Cherries fruit on stems that grew in the previous year so don't cut back new growth; chopping out older unproductive wood at this time of year will stimulate new growth for fruiting next year. It's also a good idea to mulch around the tree in winter to protect the roots.

Recipes I used:
Morello Cherry compote: 300g of stoned cherries, 80g light brown sugar and 1 tablespoon of water, simmered together in a pan until tender, about ten minutes. Use straightaway or keep in the fridge for a few days.

Bottled cherries:
I used the quantities for heavy syrup from Pam Corbin's 'Preserves' book - 250g sugar and 600ml water. Slowly dissolve the sugar in the water over a gentle heat, then boil for one minute. Put the fruit into sterilised jars; pour the hot syrup over the fruit, lightly close the lids (leaving room for steam to escape).  Put the jars into a tray filled with water and place in the oven at 150C for 30 minutes.  Tighten the lids and allow to cool. 

Other inspiration:

Nigel Slater (Tender / Volume II) uses fresh tart cherries to top a cheesecake; mixes them into a clafoutis; and uses them to make a sharp sauce to pair with gammon. (500g cherries, 50g sugar, 8 juniper berries, 1 bay leaf, 2 tbsps water - stone the cherries, mix all in a saucepan, bring to the boil, then simmer for 10 minutes, cool.)

Sweet pickled cherries from Pam Corbin's River Cottage Handbook No 2:  I won't copy the recipe out, find it here on another blog and replace the damsons with cherries, firm gooseberries or rhubarb.




4 comments:

  1. Well, it looks as if you researched your subject very thoroughly! You will be enjoying your cherries for quite some time, which somehow seems nicer than downing the lot immediately. BTW, I think a lot of people in the UK don't even know there is such as thing as a (deliberately) sour cherry.

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    1. Lol! It's quite hard to find what to do with sour cherries - I think I've covered all the bases now, Mark! :) You're right, sour cherries do seem to be more popular in the States and eastern Europe but we're catching up! Just seen a recipe for Pickled Cherries from Sarah Raven - one I missed earlier.

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  2. We once had a Morello cherry tree but we removed it as the cherries needed too much sugar added to make them edible, Do the birds steal sour cherries as we needed to protect our sweet cherries from them?

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    1. They tend not to Sue, although the colour looks appealing. I think one taste and they give up! I agree about the amount of sugar needed - I used some to make chutney in previous years which was delicious. Just wish I could remember where I cobbled the recipe together from. Btw, I've read about a sweet white cherry, 'Vega', which birds are less tempted to eat, presuming the fruit to be unripe. Worth a try maybe.

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