Cherry season is in full swing at the Tuesday afternoon Culver City Farmers Market. There are about 600 cherry growers in California, according to the California Cherry Advisory Board. Farm sizes range from one acre hobby-sized plots to 500 acre production sized farms. Cherry trees need colder nights than coastal Southern California can offer, but there are a number of areas in the San Joaquin valley and higher elevations where the trees thrive.
During the six weeks of cherry season, you’ll find the early Brooks cherries (a medium red colored), then the golden red-flused Royals and the deep red Bings. The ever-popular Bing cherry was developed through grafting in 1875 at a cherry farm in Oregon. It is named for the Manchurian Chinese foreman, Ah Bing, who cultivated and cared for the first trees to bear this wildly popular fruit.
Delicious for eating out of hand, cherries also make fabulous deserts. I was introduced to Scandinavian chilled cherry soup by a friend who followed his Norweigan grandmother’s recipe. Using sour or tarter tasting cherries in the recipe produces a wonderful contrast between the cherries and the sweeter broth.
When I was growing up, we had both a cherry tree and an apricot tree in our back yard. We lost a fair number of cherries to the birds, despite our best efforts to scare them away with tin cans reflecting the light. The apricot tree, on the other hand, was highly productive. The famed Greens restaurant in San Francisco developed an apricot-cherry crisp with the perfect ratio of apricots to cherries for our decidedly lopsided backyard harvest.
(four one-cup servings)
1 lb. Cherries (Brooks or Royals if possible)
2 cups water
1 cup red wine
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon grated orange rind
2 teaspoons cornstarch
optional: unsweetened whipped cream for topping
Remove stems and wash and pit cherries. Place in enamel or non-reactive pan with water and wine. Cook until fruit is soft, around 10 minutes. Add sugar and orange rind. Stir until sugar is dissolved. Reserve a handful of cherries for garnish. Put the remainder of the cherries and juice in blender or food processor and puree. Taste for sweetness. Add sugar to sweeten or lemon juice to make more tart as desired. Take 1/2 c. of the puree and slowly blend in cornstarch. Slowly add the cornstarch mixture to the rest of the soup, stirring constantly. Chill for one hour. Before serving, garnish with reserved cherries and, if desired, unsweetend whipped cream.
1 cup unbleached white flour
1/2 cup sugar or sugar substitute
1/2 cup light brown sugar, packed
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon cinnamon
pinch nutmeg (optional)
1/2 pound cold unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch cubes
optional: 1/2 cup chopped walnut pieces
Mix flour, sugars and seasonings together n a bowl. Work in the butter, mixing until the topping is crumbly and begins to hold together. If using nuts, quickly mix them in.
1 1/2 pounds apricots, cut into quarters (about 6 cups)
1/2 pound Bing cherries, pitted (about 2 cups)
zest of one lemon, cut into small strips and then minced
1 1/2 teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1/2 c. sugar or equivalent sugar substitute
2 tablespoons flour
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Make the topping. Toss the rest of the ingredients together in a mixing bowl. Place in 9 inch square glass baking dish. Level fruit. Cover with topping. Bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown and juices bubble around the sides of the dish. (Recipe adopted from Fields of Greens, by Annie Somerville.)
The Culver City Farmers Market is held each Tuesday from 2 pm to 7 pm on Main Street between Venice and Culver Blvds.
Katie Malich still remembers many attempts to scare the birds away from the back yard cherry tree and cherry pit spitting contests with the few cherries the birds left each year.