Cherries offer unique sour-sweet flavor

June 14, 2019
On a recent visit to the Nassau Valley Vineyards Sunday Market (more about that next week), we found lovely baskets of tart cherries from Stag Run Farm. The friendly owner, Lenore Brady, was so proud of her crop, she invited us to visit her trees in Georgetown. As you can see from the photo, these cherries are smaller and lighter in color than the sweet Bing variety. They’re also much more difficult to find fresh, so we were delighted to take some home.
Almost all tart cherries grown in this country are the Montmorency variety. Also known as sour cherries, they’re bright red when harvested and retain that bold color when dried, frozen, juiced or used for syrups and jams. Fresh tart cherries are available in the summer months and offer a unique sour-sweet flavor that holds up well in energy bars, trail mix and baked goods.
You may have read some of the research on the potential health benefits of cherries. More than 50 different studies have focused exclusively on tart cherries and their antioxidant properties that support heart health. This research strongly supports their anti-inflammatory benefits in muscle recovery and pain relief.
In addition to their nutritional value, tart cherries are a delicious fruit to feature in a wide range of recipes. One of my favorite summer treats is a mixed green salad tossed with tart cherries, toasted pecans and blue cheese. The dressing is slightly sweetened with cherry preserves to offer a bright balance to the sharp mustard and tangy vinegar. If you see sugar called for in recipes for this type of dressing, don’t add it.
A tasty side dish combines fluffy couscous with tart cherries and pine nuts. For both of these recipes, you could substitute dried tart cherries, but if you can find them fresh, the results will be more delicious. Because tart cherries hold their shape so much better, it’s not advisable to replace them with sweet cherries in either of these dishes. 
For an easy dessert, try the fruity, tender treat called clafoutis. This classic French country dish combines sweet, eggy batter with fresh fruit. As it bakes, the batter encloses the fruit with a light, airy, almost pancake-like texture. In the traditional recipe, the tart cherries are left unpitted to add almond flavor notes. I opted to remove the pits and add a bit of almond extract for the clafoutis in the photo.
This recipe can be made with almost any tender fruit (sliced ripe peaches or apricots, blueberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc.) It’s not a good place for sturdy fruit like apples and pears, as the fruit won’t meld as well with the batter. Clafoutis can be assembled very quickly: toss the fruit in a buttered baking dish, combine the batter ingredients in the blender, pour the mixture over the berries and bake.
Clafoutis are often served sprinkled with confectioners sugar, but I prefer them plain. They’re also delicious topped with whipped cream or ice cream for a slightly more decadent dessert. No matter how you enjoy tart cherries, be sure to get them while you can.
Tart Cherry Clafoutis
1/2 t butter
3/4 lb fresh sour cherries
1 T sugar
1/4 C sugar
2 eggs
1/2 C milk
1/4 C flour
pinch salt
2 T melted butter
1 T creme de cassis
1/2 T vanilla extract
1/8 t almond extract
Preheat oven to 400. Coat the inside of a 1-quart glass baking dish with butter. Pit cherries and place in the buttered pan. Sprinkle with 1 T sugar and toss to combine; set aside. Add remaining ingredients to the bowl of a blender and pulse until smooth. Pour batter over cherries and bake until puffed and golden, about 35 to 40 minutes. Cool slightly before serving. Yield: 4 servings.
Tart Cherry Couscous
1 C dried couscous
2 C water
1 T butter
pinch salt
1/4 t white pepper
1 C pitted tart cherries
1/3 C toasted pine nuts
Combine couscous, water, butter and salt in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat. Stir in pepper, cherries and pine nuts; cover and set aside. After 5 minutes, fluff couscous with a fork and serve. Yield: 4 servings.
Baby Greens & Tart Cherry Salad
5 C baby spinach
5 C spring mix
1 C toasted pecans
1 C pitted tart cherries
1/3 C olive oil
1/4 C red wine vinegar
3 T apple cider vinegar
3 T cherry preserves
1/4 t Dijon mustard
salt & pepper, to taste
1/2 C crumbled blue cheese
In a large serving bowl, toss together the spinach, spring mix, pecans and pitted cherries. In a small mixing bowl or measuring cup, whisk together the olive oil, vinegars, mustard and preserves. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Pour dressing over salad and toss gently. Sprinkle with crumbled blue cheese. Yield: 4 to 6 servings.

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