A Jubilee of Cherries

July 12th, 2017

One of my favorite seasons has arrived—and may go away very, very soon! Sour cherries are ripe here in Franklin County, Massachusetts.

This smaller, redder, tarter version of the conventional cherry is perfect for cooking. My mother used to make sour cherry soup. (I wish I had her recipe; I’m going to try to recreate it one of these days.) Sour cherries are great in pies, cobblers, cakes, and jams.

They hold their shape well when baked. And when one combines them with sugar (as I’m afraid one pretty much always does) they deliver a succulent sweet-and-tart flavor that gives extra dimension to anything one creates.

Ben Clark of Clarkdale Fruit Farms in Deerfield recently let me pick some of his sour cherries so I could experiment. Clarkdale isn’t open at this time of year, but it does sell its delectable cherries at the Greenfield Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings.

I ended up picking the cherries in the rain—but somehow the whole experience was still delightful!

According to Ben, cherries were one of the first crops his great-grandfather, Dr. Webster Clark, planted when he started growing fruit more than a century ago. (Clarkdale celebrated its centennial in 2015.) Today the farm harvests varieties the Clarks have been growing over the past decade.

Clarkdale harvests several hundred quarts of sour cherries a year. The varieties featured are Jubileum, Montmorency, and Balaton. I picked Montmorency cherries—sour but not too sour. The farm also produces six varieties of sweet cherries.

I even had a cherry hat to wear while picking, made by my cousin Kate!

The bad news is that the sour-cherry season is short. The good news is that that season is RIGHT NOW.

The tart cherries are worth embracing for that limited period of time. They don’t just taste good. They are good for those of us who consume them.

Sour cherries contain something called anthocyanins. Linked to the bright hue of the cherries, these substances can help the liver, reduce blood pressure, lower cholesterol, fight arthritis, and improve circulation. Studies indicate sour cherries may even prevent cancer.

I asked Ben Clark how long his sour cherries last once picked. “If refrigerated with stems intact,” he explained, “they will last for a week or two with no detrimental effects. They can also be frozen for six to 12 months.”

Ben and his wife Lori love to cook with the cherries. They enjoyed cherry pie last week for Independence Day. They also make cherry jam and a cherry liqueur which I have just assembled. (I can’t report back on its flavor yet; it has to age for at least three months.)

I also made an appetizer, baking brie with sour-cherry jam and pecans. I had been longing to bake brie ever since a friend gave me a handsome brie baker from local potter Jeanne Douillard. The baker worked like a charm, and the combination of flavors and textures was a winner.

Finally, I prepared a cherry upside-down cake. This was more or less an accident! I had hoped to make a cherry torte based on a classic New York Times recipe. When my cherries slid ignominiously to the bottom of the torte, I took their descent as a hint that maybe I should try an upside-down cake.

Happy cherry season………

Sour Cherry Pecan Brie

Ingredients:

for the jam:

2 cups sour cherries, pitted
1-1/4 cups sugar (more or less to taste)
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 tiny pat butter

for the baked brie:

1 8-ounce round of brie
1/3 cup sour cherry jam (use the rest as a breakfast spread—yum!)
1/2 cup toasted pecans

Instructions:

First, make the jam. (This may be done days in advance as long as you store it in the refrigerator.) In a medium saucepan combine the cherries, 1 cup of the sugar, and the lemon juice. Let this mixture sit for an hour or so to juice up.

When the hour has elapsed heat the cherry mixture, stirring frequently. Once the cherries begin to soften, add the remaining sugar and the butter. Cook until the jam reaches a temperature of 218 degrees. Remove the jam from the heat and let it cool.

To make the baked brie preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Slice the top rind off the brie, and place it in a lightly greased, shallow baking dish. Put the jam and pecans on top. Bake the brie until it gets oozy and warm. In my brie baker this took 25 minutes. I should think it would be done in 20 minutes in a thinner pan.

Serve with crackers. Serves 6 to 8.

Sour Cherry Upside-Down Cake

Ingredients:

for the topping:

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) sweet butter
3/4 cup brown sugar, firmly packed
2 cups pitted sour cherries

for the cake:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
2 eggs
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon baking powder
1-3/4 cups flour
1/2 cup milk
2 teaspoons vanilla

Instructions:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

First make the topping (which goes on the bottom!).

Melt the butter in a 9-inch cast-iron skillet. Stir in the brown sugar and cook, stirring, until it melts and bubbles—3 to 4 minutes. Arrange the cherries on top.

For the cake cream together the butter and sugar. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Add the baking powder and salt. Stir in the flour alternately with the milk, beginning and ending with the flour. Stir in the vanilla, and pour the batter over the cherry mixture.

Bake the cake until a toothpick inserted into the center (but not too far down; don’t hit the cherries!) comes out clean, about 40 minutes. If the cake is brown but not done before this happens, decrease the oven temperature and continue baking.

Allow the cake to cool for 5 to 10 minutes. Loosen the edges with a knife, and invert the cake onto a serving plate held over the skillet. Turn upside-down. Remove pan.

Serve alone or with whipped cream. Serves 8.

And now the videos….

Tinky Makes Sour Cherry Pecan Brie

Tinky Makes Sour Cherry Upside-Down Cake

Strawberry Cream-Cheese Tart

July 3rd, 2017

I know I just posted here a few days ago. I hope you’re not getting sick of me! I thought readers might like to make this festive tart for the Fourth of July, however.

The recipe has a number of steps so technically it takes a lot of time. Most of the time is spent waiting for portions of the tart to cool, however, so it’s not hard. The only thing you have to bake is the crust—and that can be done early in the morning or late at night so you won’t heat up the house too much in this warm season.

And the tart is a definite showstopper. I tend to make it the day before I serve it.

Yes, you may use a store-bought pie crust, but this one isn’t hard. You may also use lemon juice instead of key lime.

As I point out in the video below, if you want to be particularly patriotic, you may put a few blueberries on top of the tart.

Happy Independence Day!

The Tart

Ingredients:

for the tart shell:

1/2 cup (1 stick) sweet butter, softened
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1-1/3 cups flour
1/3 teaspoon salt
1 egg yolk
1 teaspoon vanilla

for the filling:

1 8-ounce package cream cheese, at room temperature
1 14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk
1/4 cup key-lime juice

for the topping:

2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup sugar
1 pinch salt
2 tablespoons key-lime juice
4 tablespoons cold water
3-1/2 cups halved strawberries, divided

Instructions:

Begin with the crust. In a mixing bowl cream together the butter and the sugar until they are just blended. Add the flour and the salt, and stir until the mixture seems crumbly. (It will be dry.)

In a small bowl whisk together the egg yolk and the vanilla; drizzle this mixture over the flour mixture. Combine until the flour mixture is evenly moist; it will still be crumbly.

Grease a 9-inch tart pan. (You may use an 8-inch pie pan if you’d rather, but the tart is just beautiful.) Place the dough in the pan. Press it evenly over the bottom and up the sides of pan. Prick the bottom of the crust a bit to keep it from puffing up too much.

Put the crust in the freezer, uncovered, for 15 minutes while you preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Bake the crust for 15 to 20 minutes or until it is golden brown. Cool it completely before filling it.

To make the filling beat the cream cheese until it is soft and smooth; then beat in the condensed milk and the key-lime juice. Spoon this mixture over the cooled crust, and refrigerate for several hours before proceeding.

Finally, make the topping. In a heavy saucepan whisk together the cornstarch, the sugar, and the salt. Slowly whisk in the liquids. In a bowl, mash 1-1/2 cups of the berries. Add them to the cornstarch mixture. Let the mixture sit in the saucepan for 1 hour to juice up.

At the end of the hour bring the berry mixture to a boil, and boil it for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove it from the heat and let it sit until it reaches room temperature. Stir in the remaining uncooked berries.

Spoon the topping over the tart filling. Refrigerate the tart until you are ready to serve it. Garnish with additional strawberries and mint leaves if you wish. Serves 8.

And now the video….

Tinky Makes Strawberry Cream-Cheese Tart on Mass Appeal

Strawberry Salsa

June 30th, 2017

Rhubarb has just about gone by in my neck of the woods so I am in deepest mourning. Fortunately, strawberries have arrived to take my mind off my grief.

I had never made strawberry salsa before trying it this season—but I’m glad to have it in my repertoire. I love salsa, and I hate waiting for tomato season to make it! This version is easy to put together, looks spectacular, and tastes fabulous.

Naturally, I made it this week on Mass Appeal and discussed the reasons for seeking out strawberries here and now. They make the perfect Fourth of July treat in New England.

Both hosts on the show called themselves “salsa purists” (particularly Danny New, who recently arrived in our state from Florida) and were skeptical about strawberry salsa. This condiment won them over, however.

Convincing the Skeptics

The Salsa

Ingredients:

the juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon salt (more or less, to taste)
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and finely chopped
3 to 4 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
a handful of fresh cilantro, chopped
2 cups strawberries, chopped fairly small

Instructions:

In a bowl stir together the lime juice and the salt. Stir in the pepper, the onion, and the cilantro; then add the strawberries.

Refrigerate the salsa for a couple of hours for maximum flavor. Serve with tortilla chips, over chicken or fish, or with crackers and cream cheese. Makes a little over 2 cups.

And now the video:

Tinky Makes Strawberry Salsa on Mass Appeal

Nantucket Rhubarb Pie

June 26th, 2017

It took me a while to figure out whether to include this recipe in my forthcoming rhubarb cookbook. It’s based on a popular cranberry recipe that isn’t actually a pie, more a cross between a cookie and a cake. I think it’s called a pie because it’s baked in a pie pan—but I really have no idea. I just know that it tastes good and comes together in no time at all. I really don’t need more information than that!

When one makes the pie with cranberries, those little red gems rise toward the top of the pie and make pretty bumps on the surface. Rhubarb is wetter and therefore heavier than cranberries so it doesn’t actually rise; consequently, the rhubarb version of the pie is less attractive than its fall cousin.

Taste always trumps appearance for me, however, so I decided to give readers the opportunity to try this delectable combination of sweet and sour. And of course I prepared the recipe on TV!

The Pie

Ingredients:

2 cups relatively finely chopped rhubarb
1-1/2 cups sugar, divided
1/2 cup walnuts or pecans (optional)
3/4 cup (1-1/2 sticks) sweet butter, melted and then allowed to sit for a few minutes to cool
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions:

Generously grease a 9-inch pie plate. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place the pieces of rhubarb in the bottom of the pie plate. Sprinkle them with 1/2 cup of the sugar and the nuts. Make a batter of the remaining ingredients, first combining the butter and the remaining sugar and then adding the eggs, the flour, and the vanilla. Pour the batter over the rhubarb.

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes. Top with whipped cream. (Ice cream works well, too. Or just serve it alone.) Serves 8.

And now the video (in which I underestimate the pie’s baking time—ouch):

Tinky Makes Nantucket Rhubarb Pie

Rhubarb-Bacon Compost

June 19th, 2017

As many of you know, my next cookbook will involve RHUBARB. It’s a good thing I love rhubarb because I have been testing rhubarb recipes pretty much nonstop for the past month; I would tire of almost any other food if I had to cook with it that intensely. Fortunately, I’m still enjoying the rhubarb.

I decided to use a couple of my rhubarb recipes last week on Mass Appeal. The first one is what I call a compost. (It’s really a compote, but one of my dinner-party guests misheard me say that word, and I thought “compost” would be a fun name for this appetizer. It does generate a fair amount of compost!)

This recipe is adapted from one I found on the Wisconsin Cheese website, maintained by the Wisconsin Milk Marketing Board. I have fond memories of spending a couple of early summers in Wisconsin with my family when my father was working on his doctoral dissertation at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. In June we feasted on three of my favorite foods—rhubarb, asparagus, and cheese.

I loved visiting the university’s dairy bar and trying various flavors of ice cream. (I’m not sure whether this eatery still exists, but I hope so; all I could find online was the agriculture department’s store, which still looks pretty terrific.). I recall—whether this is an accurate recollection or not, I couldn’t say—that milk flowed from the water fountains there. Small-child heaven!

The original compote recipe included spices, but I prefer just a few fresh herbs to let the flavors of the bacon, rhubarb, and onion shine. This compote is best eaten after it has chilled completely. It makes a delightful sweet-and-savory accompaniment to cheddar or Swiss cheese on crackers or toast. When I made it, I used local bacon from a smokehouse near my home, Pekarski’s in South Deerfield, Massachusetts. The bacon flavor really dominates here so I urge you to use the best bacon you can find. You only need four slices so you won’t break the bank!

I thought a pink hat would accessorize rhubarb nicely.

The Compote

Ingredients:

4 slices bacon
2 cups sweet onion slices
2 cups finely chopped rhubarb
3 tablespoons cider vinegar
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1/2 teaspoon fresh thyme
1 teaspoon (maybe a little more!) fresh chives

Instructions:

Fry the bacon in small pieces. Add the onion, and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for about 15 minutes, until the onion starts to caramelize, stirring frequently. Add the rhubarb, the vinegar, and the maple syrup. Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, until the rhubarb softens and most of the liquid evaporates. The timing on this stage will vary depending on the toughness of your rhubarb. When I made the compote, breaking down the rhubarb took about 10 minutes.

Remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Stir in the herbs, and refrigerate until ready to use. Serve with cheese.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

And now the video:

Tinky Makes Rhubarb-Bacon Compost