Friday, July 1, 2011

Cherry Pickin'

When we moved into our house two years ago, we either completely ignored or just missed the fruit season of our one, lonely fruit tree. Behind our house, very close to the entrance to the tuck-under garage, we have a sour cherry tree. I seem to remember seeing blooms the first year (we moved into our house in May), but I have zero recollection of actual cherries! Maybe it was because in the span of three weeks, we purchased the house, cleaned it, moved in (combining everything from my apartment and the Architect’s townhouse), acclimated all of the animals (my cats, his dog) to the new space and to one another, unpacked, I graduated from grad school, and we hosted a graduation party and out-of-town guests… at our new house. That whole month is a bit of a blur in my memory. It was massively fun and exciting, but I certainly understand how we might have missed the cherries.

Anyhow, last spring and summer, we were thrilled to see the tree producing brilliant red, juicy cherries! The sad part is that the cherry tree was clearly pruned by someone who did not have cherry pie in mind. Most of the branches start at about the six-foot mark on the tree, and extend far above the 2nd story roof line. It makes cherry picking a rather precarious activity. I truly understand the concept of a cherry-picker (which I am familiar with in my former life as a theatre person). I really wish I had one now!

Even with the height challenges, last year I picked enough cherries to make cherry cobbler for my dad’s birthday. I probably could have picked more, but it rained so much last summer that I didn’t get another round picked. This year, my goal is to get two pickings from the tree.
I picked one and half quarts of cherries in the first round, and was quite pleased with myself. I didn’t even get on the roof to pick (although I may do that next time). Our family was getting together to celebrate June birthdays, and I offered to bring dessert, knowing that I had cherries at my disposal. I was very excited to use our own fruit, and with one year of cherry experience under my belt, I felt quite prepared to tackle the task. Last year, I purchased a great little tool I call the cherry de-pitter (that’s the technical name for it, I’m sure). You stick the cherry in, squeeze, and the cherry pit plops out the end. It makes the task of de-pitting cherries rather tolerable.

 I mixed the cherries, juice that snuck out with the pits, and about a half cup of honey and simmered it on the stove while I prepared the cake. Because I added the cherry juice, it didn’t thicken up as much as I hoped, so I scooped out some of the hot juice, cooled it, mixed in some cornstarch (teaspoon, maybe? I can’t remember), and mixed it back into the simmering cherries, stirring constantly until combined. It thickened it right up. I did use a potato masher to squish the cherries, but then wished I hadn’t because then you couldn’t identify the fruit as cherries. I’ll leave them mostly whole next time. The resulting cherry sauce filled this whole jar... this is what remained after 7 people gobbled down dessert.

The cake: I dug through the cupboards and found a box of Betty Crocker’s Gluten-Free Devil's Food Chocolate Cake Mix. For all of you GF folks out there, if you have not yet discovered Betty’s GF mixes, you’re missing out. I know, it’s a big commercial company, but I have a lot of respect for their venture into the GF world. They were one of the first mainstream companies to create and successfully market gluten-free foods, and the brownies are TO DIE FOR. I’ve also used the yellow cake mix to create an incredible carrot cake, so they provide a lot of flexibility for people who don’t have kitchens stocked with all of the bean/sorghum/rice/quinoa/etc. flours used to make the best mixes. I have a nice variety of flours in my kitchen, but I really appreciate the ability to be lazy sometimes!

Back to the chocolate cake… I followed the recipe. Mostly. (You knew that was coming, right?) Instead of a half cup of butter, I substituted a half cup of coconut oil. And OH EM GEE. Incredible. Moist. Rich. Dense. Simply amazing chocolate cake.With a scoop of homemade ice cream, made with milk from Sheeder Cloverleaf Dairy , topped with the sour cherry sauce, we had ourselves quite the birthday feast. The cherry sauce had a great tartness, the ice cream was creamy and sweet, and the cake… well, you judge for yourself. (Yeah, no ice cream in this shot. We ate faster than I could photograph. This is leftovers from the next day, sans homemade ice cream.)

What’s your favorite homemade dessert? How do you use summer fruits?

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