I’ve just picked up my first local cherries of the season, origin Wandin East.
We have a couple of ornamental cherry trees in our street that light up the universe when they’re in bloom in the earliest days of spring. The astonishing glory of them (in the years the possums give them a chance) is only half of it. They remind me that not so far away, in the hills off to Melbourne’s east, the cherries are on their way.
It’s fun to go and pick them. The countryside with the hills as a backdrop is so pretty it’s a pleasure just to be there.
But as delicious as they are in their natural state, they are even better in pie. We spent a few years in America and that turned me on to the pleasures of fruit pie. America didn’t give me that many delights in the way of food, but the things it does well are exemplary. I can still taste the utter deliciousness of a fruits of the forest pie that came from some little store in some remote corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Every second person seems to have some treasured family recipe that comes up a treat.
I started my exploration of cherry dishes with clafoutis, taking as guide one of Maggie Beer’s ever-reliable recipes. It looked good (though obviously messier than hers would ever be), but the texture wasn’t what I expected. Given that it was my first, it’s likely the fault was in the cook and not the recipe. Or maybe it’s just that particular texture doesn’t appeal to my taste buds.
I made quite a lot of German-style fruit tarts when I was a kid, but then pretty much abandoned pastry for decades. I came to it again quite recently as a complete novice, and turned to Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cookery as a guide (hearing all the while the magnificent Meryl as Julia in my head, giving me stern but helpful advice as I struggled my way through).
Sour cherry pie was a logical next step. This was a breeze. Make or buy your pastry base. Pit the cherries and mix with sugar to taste, and a couple of teaspoons of cornflour (depending on how runny you’re happy with). Stir it a couple of times and let it sit and stir it again. Make sure the cornflour’s dissolved, and most of the sugar too. Cut the topping pastry strips for as pretty a pattern as you can manage (mine obviously not very). Cook it at 180C for about 45 minutes, or until it’s golden brown and you can see the fruit juices bubbling through. Keep watch and be prepared to turn it around if the colour gets one-sided. That first one (pictured here) was a bit rough, but the taste is divine.
Next step, to make it with sweet cherries. Not with this lot though, they won’t last long enough. Next time …