California cherries deserve their cherished reputation. Heralded as the first stone fruit of spring, these sweet nuggets of flavor make May a mouth-watering month for cherry lovers.
And this harvest is worth the wait.
“We’re having a bumper crop; everybody is,” said grower Deborah Olson, of famed C.J. Olson Cherries in Sunnyvale. “A lot of fruit will be flooding the market all at the same time.”
That means a plentiful supply of this spring favorite during its traditional peak sale period: Memorial Day weekend.
“It’s the largest crop California has had in a very long time,” said Olson, whose family has been growing cherries since 1899. “We haven’t seen the trees with this much fruit in years.”
With a six- to eight-week spring harvest, California accounts for about one-third of the nation’s supply of sweet cherries. Washington and Oregon also grow sweet cherries while tart pie or sour cherries are grown primarily in Michigan.
“We are expecting a great crop,” confirmed Chris Zanobini, executive director of the Sacramento-based California Cherry Advisory Board, which represents about 850 growers. “The fruit quality is excellent. Supplies are abundant now through the middle of June.”
There will be a plentiful supply of this spring favorite during its traditional peak sale period: Memorial Day weekend
The official estimate is 8.5 million boxes; that’s 153 million pounds of cherries. That’s up from 5.17 million boxes in 2016.
Although the harvest seemed a little late, the crop actually had normal timing, Zanobini said.
The first cherries to arrive this season were Brooks and Coral varieties, Olson said. Yellow Rainier cherries began harvest last week. They’ll be followed quickly by Tulare and Bing cherries. Bings, a longtime California favorite, represent the bulk of the crop.
“A lot of the varieties are ripening at the same time as well,” Olson added. “It’s going to be a very good year – as long as we don’t have any rain or too much heat.”
That’s the nature of cherries. They’re as perishable as they are delicious. Rain can ruin the ripening cherries, turning them to mush. Hot weather prompts Bings to develop spurs, doubles or other deformities.
“There are plenty of pitfalls to growing cherries,” Olson said.
But this year makes up for recent challenges.
“I’m very happy with what we’re getting,” Olson said. “They’re ripening very quickly, too.”
The one down side? So many cherries means fewer jumbos.
“There’s a lot of fruit, so the size is not as big as normal,” Olson noted.
After five years of drought, California cherry trees benefited from a winter combination of rain and cold.
“We had ideal growing conditions,” Olson said. “They like the cold winter. This spring allowed them to grow slowly.”
Lack of winter chill impacted recent crops as much as lack of rain, she noted.
“We’ve had down years for many years, especially the last four or five years,” Olson said. “The drought definitely affected the crop, but even more so was the lack of cold weather. The trees didn’t get enough chill hours.”
“Chill hours,” a crucial factor for many fruit crops, represent time spent below 45 degrees. That chill helps trigger fruit set. Without it, cherries struggle. Ideally, cherries need 700 to 800 chill hours for a good crop.
Coolness and well-timed rain let the heavy crop mature, albeit a little slower than recent crops. Instead of showing up in early April, the first cherries came to market in late April. That’s actually normal.
“It’s cherry season weather,” Olson said last week. “It’s cool in the morning and warm in the afternoon; just the way cherries like it.”
Cherry and apricot clafoutis
Time: 90 minutes
Cherries and apricots are both in season together, and combine nicely in many desserts. Cookbook author Martha Rose Schulman uses half almond flour and half all-purpose flour in this clafoutis. Serve it warm or at room temperature, and eat leftovers for breakfast.
Advance preparation: If you’re making this for a dinner, you can make it several hours ahead. The leftovers will keep for about 3 days in the refrigerator.
Recipe from Martha Rose Schulman for The New York Times.
3/4 pound ripe cherries, stemmed and pitted
3/4 pound ripe apricots, halved and pitted
2 tablespoons Kirsch
6 tablespoons sugar
⅓ cup (40 grams) unbleached all-purpose flour
⅓ cup (35 grams) almond flour
1 vanilla bean, scraped, or 1 teaspoon vanilla
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup low-fat yogurt
Toss the cherries and apricots with the Kirsch and 2 tablespoons of the sugar, and let sit for 30 minutes. Drain over a bowl. Sift together the all-purpose flour and almond flour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter a 9- or 10-inch ceramic tart pan or clafoutis dish. Arrange the drained cherries and apricots in the dish.
In a medium bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining sugar and the seeds from the vanilla bean or vanilla. Add the salt and the liquid from the cherries and apricots and combine well. Slowly beat in the sifted flours and whisk until smooth. Add the yogurt and combine well. Pour over the fruit, scraping out all of the batter with a rubber spatula.
Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, until the top is browned and the clafoutis is firm and puffed. Press gently on the top in the middle to see if it’s firm. If it isn’t, return to the oven for 5 minutes.
Remove from the oven and cool on a rack. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Cherry-bourbon ice cream
Prep time: 1 hour (plus several hours chilling time)
Total time: 1 hour (plus several hours chilling time)
Makes about 1 quart
Adapted from Bon Appetit magazine, August 2013, by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
11/2 cups halved pitted cherries
3 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons bourbon
1 1/2 cups heavy cream
1 1/2 cups whole milk
1/2 cup granulated sugar, divided
A pinch of kosher salt
1/2 vanilla bean (or 1 teaspoon vanilla extract)
5 large egg yolks
To make the sauce: Place pitted cherries, sugar, and 1 tablespoon water in a small saucepan. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until syrupy, 4-5 minutes. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for at least 15 minutes. Stir in bourbon. Cover and chill until ready to make ice cream.
To make the ice cream: Combine heavy cream, whole milk, 1/4 cup granulated sugar and a pinch of kosher salt in a medium saucepan. Split vanilla bean lengthwise and scrape in seeds; add pod (or use vanilla extract). Bring mixture just to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Remove from heat. If using vanilla bean, cover; let sit 30 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk 5 large egg yolks and remaining 1/4 cup sugar in a medium bowl until pale, about 2 minutes. Gradually whisk in 1/2 cup warm cream mixture. Whisk yolk mixture into remaining cream mixture. Cook over medium heat, stirring constantly, until thick enough to coat a wooden spoon, 2-3 minutes. Strain custard into a medium bowl set over a bowl of ice water. Place vanilla bean back in the custard. Let cool, stirring occasionally. Chill in refrigerator for at least 2 hours, or overnight.
When ready to make the ice cream, remove the vanilla bean from the custard and discard. Freeze in an ice cream maker according to manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer to an airtight container, and fold in cherry-bourbon sauce. Cover and freeze until firm, at least 4 hours and up to 1 week.
Per 1/2 cup serving: 309 calories (63% from fat), 21 grams fat (12 grams sat. fat), 24 grams carbohydrates, 4 grams protein, 59 mg sodium, 200 mg cholesterol, trace of fiber.
Pork chops with brandied cherries
You can use either sour or sweet cherries here, as long as you balance the sweetness and the acidity. Sour cherries will need a bit of honey to finish the sauce, while sweet ones benefit from a touch of vinegar.
Recipe from Melissa Clark for The New York Times.
1 ¾ teaspoons kosher salt, more to taste
1 ½ teaspoon garam masala
½ teaspoon black pepper
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
2 bone-in pork chops, 1 ½ inches thick, about 1 pound each
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 garlic clove, smashed and peeled
2 tablespoons brandy
2 cups fresh sweet or sour cherries, pitted and halved
4 sprigs thyme, plus thyme leaves for garnish
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
½ teaspoon sherry vinegar or honey, or more to taste (use the vinegar with the sweet cherries, the honey with the sour cherries)
Combine salt, garam masala, pepper and allspice in a small bowl. Rub mixture all over pork chops, covering their entire surface. Let chops rest for 15 to 30 minutes at room temperature, or up to 24 hours, covered, in the refrigerator.
Heat a 10-inch skillet at medium-high. Add oil. Sear pork chops until brown, about two to three minutes per side. Add garlic to pan, then sear the fatty edges of the chops, using tongs to hold them up, for about 30 seconds to a minute each. (Flip the garlic after it browns on one side.) If the pan starts to smoke at any point, lower the heat. Transfer the pork to a plate, and spoon off all but a thin layer of fat from pan. (Leave garlic in the pan.)
Add brandy to pan, let it simmer until the alcohol burns off (about 30 seconds), then add cherries, thyme and 2 tablespoons water. Let simmer for one minute.
Move cherries to the sides of the pan and return pork chops to the center so they can make contact with the metal. Cover pan and cook over low heat for about seven minutes, until meat reaches 130 to 135 degrees on an instant-read thermometer. (Its temperature will rise as it rests.) Transfer the pork to a cutting board and let rest for five minutes.
Meanwhile, add butter and vinegar or honey to the pan, stirring until butter melts and coats the cherries. Taste and add more honey or vinegar, and salt as needed. Serve pork with cherries and more thyme on top.
Makes 1 quart
This method works for just about any fruit, herb or vegetable, but cherry bounce has the benefit of historical significance, as it was one of George Washington’s favorite tipples. Depending on the type of cherry you use, the flavor ranges from dessert-worthy sweet (Bing) to tart and refreshing (sour/tart varieties). You’ll need a half-gallon jar and a clean 1-quart jar. See fruit variations below.
Alter the liquor base to fit your taste. Vodka keeps the cherry flavor very true; rum adds sweetness and a tropical touch; cognac creates the taste of an intense cherry wine; bourbon or rye makes a smoky and fruity bounce. The boozy-fruit byproduct can be reserved to serve over pound cake or ice cream.
Make ahead: The fruit mixture needs to cure in a sunny indoor spot for 1 week, then in a dark place, such as a cabinet or closet, for 40 days. The strained bounce needs to sit for several hours before using. Stored at a moderate, even temperature, the bounce will keep indefinitely.
Recipe from Cathy Barrow for The Washington Post.
1 pound cherries, stemmed
2 3/4 cups sugar
4 cups vodka, rum, cognac, bourbon, rye or grain alcohol (see note above)
Pierce each cherry with the tip of a knife in one or two places. Combine the sugar and 1 cup of the liquor in the half-gallon jar; shake well to dissolve the sugar as much as possible. Add the fruit and shake again, then top with the remaining 3 cups of liquor. Shake gently to distribute the fruit.
Place the jar in a sunny indoor spot; let it sit for 1 week, then transfer it to a dark spot and let it sit for 40 days. The color of the bounce will darken/intensify. Seat a strainer over a pitcher or container with a pour spout. Strain the cherry mixture; reserve or discard the fruit (see note above). Cover the strained liquor and let it settle for a few hours, then pour the bounce into the clean 1-quart jar; do not include any sediment.
Variations: To make an apricot bounce, use cognac or vodka; bourbon is too strong for the fruit, which can be sweet or tart. Add a dozen sprigs of fresh thyme; chop the unpeeled apricots into chunks, discarding the pits, before infusing.
To make a peach bounce, choose bourbon – not rum. Add a dozen coin-size slices of fresh ginger root. Peel and chop the peaches before infusing.
‘Twin Peaks’ cherry pie
Time: 2 hours
Makes 1 pie (8-10 servings)
“Twin Peaks,” which returned Sunday after a 26-year hiatus, fetishized pie (as well as doughnuts and coffee) to such an extent that almost any real-life slice is bound to fall short. The following recipe is the composite sketch of a divinely good cherry pie.
Tip: Buy sour cherries when they are in season and pit them the same day you buy them. Mix 4 cups pitted sour cherries with 1/2 cup sugar and freeze in a zipper-lock bag. For this recipe, you would use 2 bags of these frozen cherries without adding the sugar on the ingredient list. The cherries will keep, frozen, for up to 2 years.
Recipe from The New York Times.
For the crust:
1/2 cup cold whole milk, plus more if needed
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
2 2/3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
8 ounces (2 sticks) cold unsalted butter, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
1 large egg
1/4 cup whole milk
Raw sugar, for sprinkling
For the filling:
8 cups pitted sour cherries, fresh or frozen
1 cup sugar (see tip above)
5 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons cherry liqueur or cherry-flavored brandy
Make the crust: In a liquid measuring cup, stir together the milk and vinegar. In a large mixing bowl, toss the flour, sugar and salt with a fork to combine. Using a pastry cutter, cut in the butter cubes until the butter is the size of small peas. Using a fork or large spoon, slowly add the liquid in 4 or 5 additions, stopping after every pour to combine, until the dough just sticks together. Knead lightly in the bowl until it forms a taut ball.
Separate dough into 2 equal-size disks and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least an hour. (Dough can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 1 week or frozen for up to 2 months.)
Make the filling: Mix the cherries, sugar, cornstarch and salt in a medium-size saucepan and cook over medium heat until cherries thaw (if frozen) and the cornstarch and sugar dissolve. Reduce heat to medium-low, stirring occasionally to keep cherries from burning, and cook until the mixture thickens slightly. (Total cooking time should be about 20 minutes.) Add liqueur, stir and remove from heat. Let cool to room temperature.
Assemble the pie: Heat oven to 425 degrees. On a lightly floured work surface, roll out 1 disk of dough into a 1/8-inch thick circle about 15 inches in diameter. Transfer to a 9-inch deep-dish pie plate and chill in refrigerator as you work on the top crust.
Working quickly, roll out a second disk into an 1/8-inch thick rectangle about 15 inches long and 12 inches wide. Cut into 6 strips about 2 inches wide. Remove pie plate from refrigerator and fill with cherry filling. Weave lattice strips over the top. Seal, trim and crimp the edges. Or cut dough into five zigzag strips and lay on top of pie filling, trimming excess.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg and milk to make an egg wash. Brush the crust with it, and sprinkle with raw sugar.
On a baking sheet, bake pie for 20 minutes at 425 degrees, rotating once halfway through. Lower heat to 350 degrees and bake another 30 to 40 minutes, until the crust is golden brown and the filling is thick and glossy. Juice may bubble onto baking sheet. Remove pie to wire rack to cool before serving. The pie can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.