Within his mysterious ways and his infinite wisdom, the Good Lord has granted me two enormous cherry trees in my little corner of Eden. Both are in bloom and both are breaking under the weight of cherries. Enormous black cherries so gorged with sugar and sunshine that they are jet black. So, I’ve got to get up in the trees and harvest the cherries. In our fully automated world there is no easy way to get those cherries other than break out the ladders and climb up into the tree and pick them.
So, the problem comes what to do with all these cherries. Well there are those on higher branches that you never get. Unless you get lowered down into the tree by a very obliging passing helicopter pilot, – so leave these for the birds or the angels. For those you can get (each one picked by hand) you give bags to friends and neighbours, you eat a few, until you are sick of eating them. The rest you preserve; freeze or bottle.
NO NO NO !!!!! Never freeze cherries. When you defrost them midwinter to make a cherry pie, they are so gorged with water that they are no good – not even for jam. Never freeze any soft fruit. Eat it now, give it away, but don’t maltreat your humble raspberry, strawberry or cherry by sticking hem into cryogenic suspension. They have given so much effort to grow so that you can enjoy them. They are waiting to be eaten. Such is their purpose in life. Always eat fresh
Come to think of it, I know many people in this great gastronomic land, who, will buy their bread, fresh from the baker’s at the start of the week, and then freeze it. Why do you want to freeze your daily baguette? It has to eaten fresh not frozen. AH YES ! Retort my colleagues. IF YOU FREEZE YOUR BREAD YOU HAVE FRESH BREAD EVERYDAY. That is BOLLOCKS! If you want fresh bread just buy it from the baker each day, don’t defrost and then reheat your old bread.
« Yeah, but I’m never near a baker in the day. » so the argument goes.
Oh God, this is France, there are as many baker’s as there are brothels or cafés. In front of my workplace I’ve got one at least one brothel and two baker’s.
So, back to cherries.
What to do with your excess cherries – jam is a favourite, or cherry pie or what about preserving your cherries in alcohol?
First for Jam – this is a tried and tested recipe from one of my neighbours. So, read that label on a jam jar, and there is a lot of stuff in there that isn’t fruit – mostly jellifying and preserving agents. When you make cherry jam, there should be nothing but cherries and of course some sugar.
Right, first climb up your ladder and harvest several large bagfuls of cherries. Sort them out to remove unwanted bits of tree and weed out the rotten fruit. Next, remove the stone from your cherries – a lengthy and very juicy process.
Next question – how do you remove stones from cherries? Just take a small sharp knife and cut all the flesh away from the stone.
Now, you will have noticed that I haven’t washed my cherries – well the rain has already done that, so unless your cherries are covered in bird shit, you don’t need to wash them, besides, washing just spoils the flavour.
Okay, so you have a large bowl full of cherries. This is the part where you might need to weigh them, because when making the jam you are going to put in cherries to sugar in the same ration – a kilo of sugar for a kilo of jam (you can of course always put less sugar.) –
Fling your cherries into a large saucepan, cover that, with water and then pour in the sugar. Cover the pan and then cook it all on a low heat for … well I’m not sure, you just have to keep checking your mixture until it has the consistency of jam. Do you want runny jam or thick jam? Whatever you, just make sure them cherries don’t boil dry (so keep adding water from time to time). When you mixture looks like jam, take it off the heat, leave it to cool and then spoon it into empty jam jars.
In jam terms, the world is divided into two firm camps – those who like their jams with skins and bits, and those who, skinless and bit-less jam. If you are of the latter tribe, then a spot of straining, and mashing are in order before you start the potting process. The danger is though that your cherry jam might turn into cherry slush – so you’ve made great slush that’s gonna go a treat on ice cream or in yoghurts or if you want to make a cherry sauce to accompany your duck or venison.
There are variants on the recipe. You can add lemon juice or ginger to give your jam a bit of a kick. Add a spot of cinnamon instead of so much sugar.
Now, for preserving your jam. Well that depends on how much you make and how quick you’re going to eat it and what you put it in. This is France where most supermarkets sell jars and sealing rings and all the other paraphernalia you’d need for preserving, or bottling or pickling. Best advice though is to stick your jam in an old jam jar (hope you didn’t throw away the lid.) – So plop your concoction in an old jam jar. Don’t fill your jar right up to the top, leave a small space because – well to tell you the truth, I’ve never been great on physics, but this advice comes from my neighbour. Once you have sealed the jar (i.e. screwed the top tightly on), you’re going to turn the jar upside down and leave it that way for a couple of hours, it’s something to do with the air pressure inside the jar. Okay, when the time it up, return your jars – add some pretty labels and give it to friends who you might never see again, or work colleagues who are leaving. A gift of homemade jam, a lovely gesture, but if your jam is awful. Well you didn’t set out to poison anyone and if your jam is so bad that no one can eat it, the recipients of your present can just flush the whole lot away and keep the jar.
Just a thought, why don’t you caramelise those cherries just a little before making them into jam. I used to do quite a good peach preserve with large chunks of caramelised peach.
The French call this « clafoutis » – it’s Midway between a cake and a flan. So, prepare your cherries as before – removing the stones etc. For a decent sized flan cum cake you’re going to need about 500 grammes of prepared cherries, 250 grammes of flour, 50 grammes of sugar, three eggs, half a litre of milk, 30 grammes of melted butter and a pinch of salt. Of course, when baking, the more butter the better, so I like to use about double the recommended amount and always salted butter – that Brittany salted butter with crystals in it. YES, I know this is bad for you, but if you want to be thin, miserable and live a long and healthy life, why the hell are you making a cake in the first place? Just eat the friggin’ cherries by the bucket load and the weight will just pour out of you – cherries are a good laxative, and if you are a complete detox nut, make yourself some tea with the cherry stalks – you’ll be detoxing all day.
That’s all the ingredients – so, eggs, milk, and melted butter all together in a jug or some other vessel. Flour, sugar and a pinch of salt in a big mixing bowl – and just get mixing. This ain’t rocket science, neither is it an exact science, so you just keep mixing until the mixture looks mixed.
Now, grease your baking tin – even more butter. Lay the cherries in the bottom of the baking tine, pour the mixture on top and then whack it into the oven at 180°c for 45 mins to an hour. And how well you know when it is cooked – well stick a knife into your cake and pull it out again. If your knife is covered in sludgy mixture, your cake ain’t cooked.
As a personal touch, you could always sprinkle your cake liberally with sugar before cooking or you could add some dark rum, Cointreau or Grand Marnier into the mixture. Don’t add the whole bottle that would be a waste. Besides if your cake is a total failure, you’re going to need the rest of the bottle to drown your sorrows.
Cherries in alcohol are pretty easy. Out here in France, the supermarkets sell special alcohol for preserving fruit. Unless you are one of the 65 million people who live here, you might not find fruit alcohol in your neck of the woods. In this case, cheap brandy is a good alternative or perhaps some white rum (not Bacardi). Right you’re going to need a large jar with a decent screw top or some kind of sealing ring. This time you’re also going to need to wash your cherries.
Okay, cherries washed – (here is the difficult bit) – put your cherries in the jar, then pour on the alcohol, sprinkle in a spot of sugar and then screw the top on the jar. If no air gets in, your cherries will keep for ages. And just when do you eat these cherries. Well in France, we take them as a digestive after a heavy lunch, or you might just serve them up as part of a desert.
There you go, now get cooking.
As a parting thought, I bear no responsibility for any cases of food poisoning that may result from these recipes, so seriously, if you live near a nuclear power station, by a main road, or if cats have climbed into your tree and pissed on your cherries – do wash them – and if you are using supermarket bought cherries, wash them too. I don’t know about where you live, but in France, people like to feel fruit before they buy. It could be that nose picking, bum-scratching shoppers have fingered the cherries you are about to serve up to your family.