Pre-Temperance Maraschino Cherries

I know, I know, all I ever talk about any more is cherries, but isn’t it comforting to know that despite all the changes life can throw at you, some things remain constant? One such thing being cherry season which always comes around this time of year without fail.

I specifically get excited about sour cherry season not just because sour cherries are the most useful for doing anything with, but because it means I can once again make my yearly pilgrimage up to Cherry Tyme in Leona Valley for a day of cherry picking. For the past three years I have followed this tradition, and I don’t plan to change anything this year.

I served up this recipe for homemade maraschino cherries in a cocktail called the “The Corpse Reviver #2″ at my sisters wedding last year and it was a big hit. Since then, people haven’t quit bugging me for more info on how I make the cherries, so here’s everything I know:

Pre-Temperance Maraschino Cherries

Ingredients:

  • Sour cherries with seeds and stems
  • Luxardo or Maraska Brand Maraschino Liqueur
  • Glass canning jars like this, or you can use the half pint sized ones which make nice gifts

Method:

  1. Pick out the largest, most beautiful, firm, and intact cherries you have and rinse them thoroughly without bruising them.
  2. Pack them into your jars as efficiently as possible.
  3. Pour your Maraschino liqueur over the cherries until they are covered by 1/4 inch.
  4. Seal the lids tightly.
  5. Put them away in a cool dark place.
  6. Inspect once a week for the first month or two, flipping the jars over each time you put them away.
  7. If lids are bulging with pressure, loosen, and let gas escape, then re-seal (this is normal).
  8. Cherries should be ready in about three months.

Notes:

  • Through extensive testing I have found that the Balaton variety of sour cherries is the most suitable for this recipe. Morello would be my second choice, and Montmorency would be a distant third. I found that the Balatons were the only cherry that still looked good after a year of pickling, while the others ended up somewhat shriveled and ugly.
  • I like to keep the pits and stems intact because the pits give a nice almond flavor and the stems look nice. If you don’t want them for a specific application you can remove them at that time.
  • If you can’t wait three months, an expedited method is explained here.
  • These cherries are delicious for eating straight, garnishing cocktails and ice cream, and even as an ice cream ingredient along with chunks of chocolate truffles. Yum!
  • For more info on the history of Maraschino cherries don’t forget to read my other post “Sour Cherry Pickin’” (same link as above).

Wedding Cake

Well, hello.  It’s been a while, I know, but just wait, I have some great new recipes for you.  I can hardly believe that I got married a year ago this May, but between work, teaching, and finishing up coursework for my MFA, time has been flying by.  In honor of our anniversary, I want to share one of our wedding cakes.

I have to admit that when I first suggested making our wedding cake, my husband-to-be got a sort of startled, frozen look on his face.  To be fair, he knows I’m prone to taking on too much, and I had admittedly never made a tiered cake before. But I was also in love with the idea, and soon Andy was too. We even decided that we would pass the cake out ourselves.

So I began pouring over recipes, blogs, and the indispensable Cake Bible.  I’m not fond of fondant, nor, really buttercream.  But what other frosting would hold up in the heat?  And what flavor for the cake? Almost everyone loves chocolate, but we were enamoured with the idea of lemon.  In the end, we decided on not one, but two kinds of cakes - a tiered chocolate cake covered with chocolate ganache and powdered sugar, and several lemon layer cakes with lemon curd filling and a stiffened whipped cream frosting.

And the results were just what we’d hoped for. Rather than a sea of plates covered in half-eaten cake, we had a neat stack of empty ones. In fact most people had a slice of one flavor, and then they came back to try a slice of the other. How much cake in all? We made one 12-inch tier and one 8-inch tier of chocolate (each of two 2-inch deep layers, which we then divided to make 4 layers on each tier), and three 10-inch lemon layer cakes, also with two 2-inch deep layers divided so that each cakes were 4 layers tall.  Heavenly. I was afraid we would have too little, but we served about 100 people and had about half of the 12-inch chocolate layer, and one lemon cake left over.  We declined to freeze the leftovers, and instead ate wedding cake morning, noon and night for several weeks after.

Although both cakes were delicious, the lemon cake was the almost universal favorite. The cake recipe comes from Sara Jenkins and is available online here. I doubled the recipe and baked my cakes in 10-inch cake pans. Then I cut each round in half horizontally to create 4 layers. This makes a beautiful and dramatic layer cake, but it would be equally delicious with two thicker layers, or with two thin layers. If you make four layers, as I did, you’ll probably want to double the lemon curd and whipped cream recipes.

Once the cakes are baked and cooled, divide them if desired and fill with about 1/4 inch lemon curd between each layer. Cover generously with the whipped cream and garnish with lemon zest. Store chilled until ready to serve.

Lemon Curd (makes 1 cup)

  • 4 large egg yolks
  • 1/2 cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 ounces fresh lemon juice
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
  • 2 teaspoons lemon zest
  • pinch salt

Beat the egg yolks and sugar together in a heavy saucepan. Make sure the sugar and yolks are well combined; otherwise the yolks will curdle when the lemon juice is added. Add all other ingredients except the lemon zest and cook over medium heat, stirring constantly. Do not let the mixture reach a boil. When the curd has thickened and turned an opaque yellow color, remove from heat and pour through a strainer. Stir in the lemon zest and allow to cool. The curd will thicken as it cools. Can be stored for up to three weeks in the refrigerator.

Stabilized Whipped Cream (makes 2 cups)

  • 2 tablespoons powdered sugar
  • 1 teaspoon cornstarch
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Chill mixing bowl. Heat sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan and gradually add 1/4 cup of the cream. Simmer for a few seconds, stirring constantly. Cool and add the vanilla. Beat the remaining cream in the chilled bowl until it begins to hold the beater marks. Add the cornstarch and sugar mixture slowly, beating constantly. Continue beating until stiff peaks begin to form. Do not overbeat. Store up to 24 hours in the refrigerator.

Sour Cherry Pickin’ Los Angeles Style

Bowl-of-Montmorency-Cherries
Sometimes life is like a bowl of sour cherries… but I’m not complaining!

Yes you heard me right, sour (tart) cherries are now ripe and ready for picking in the Leona Valley (just North of Los Angeles, CA near Palmdale).  SOUR cherries?? you’re probably thinking, why would I want those?  Because, let me tell you my friend, they are the way to true cherry pie bliss.

Cherry-Pie

And cherry jam bliss…

Sour-Cherry-Jam-Making

and real Maraschino (pronounced “maraskino”) cherry bliss.

Maraschino-Cherries
No, you don’t need any red #40 to make these, but you do need real Maraschino Liqueur.

I have to admit that two years ago I had never tried a sour cherry.  To be fair to myself though, most Californians haven’t.  It’s more of an East coast/European/Persian thing.  Why that is, I’m not really sure.  Maybe because sweet cherries grow so well here.

This all started when I discovered the Manhattan cocktail a few years back.  I loved this cocktail, but hated the garish garnish.  For some reason those noxious things people call “maraschino” cherries just freak me out.  I knew there must be something more.  What was the origin or inspiration for these cherries?.  A little googling around and I was on to something.

The first Maraschino cherries were cooked up somewhere on the Dalmatian coast near Croatia and Italy.  They were made from small, black, sour cherries that grow wild on the hillsides around those parts.  Their name was the Marasca cherry.  A sweet liqueur known as Maraschino had long since been distilled from the fruit, stones (pits), and leaves of these wild cherry trees, but until the 1800’s no one had ever tried to pickle the Marascas in their own liqueur.

Some years later American tourists discovered Maraschino cherries and brought jars home to share with their friends.  They were a big hit and news spread quickly.  Before long, they were all the rage in America’s finest saloons acting as garnish for delicious pre-prohibition cocktails like the Manhattan.  But, sad as it is, the salad days of the real Maraschino cherry in America were numbered.  Things changed when a guy from Oregon, with too many cherries (and chemicals) on his hands, developed a way to preserve them in a less than appetizing way.

How on Earth did these offensively colored new substitutes catch on?  I can only guess.  I’m sure the Temperance Movement didn’t help.  God forbid children should be tempted to sneak one of these liquor soaked cherries!

The new and improved “Maraschino Americano” was also incredibly cheap compared to the imported varieties, and you know how we Americans are when it comes to the cost of food.  The cheaper the better.

Yum...
Yum…

Thus began my personal quest to re-create the original Maraschino cherry as closely as I could.  A google search for “sour cherries Los Angeles” yielded few results, but I finally found what I was looking for.  It was a place called Cherry Tyme Sour Cherries in the Leona Valley about an hour and a half North of Los Angeles.  Bingo, I thought!

But wait, it was August and all the sour cherries were long gone according to the pleasant lady on the phone.  I had just missed the season!  As you can imagine I was devastated, but the lady offered me one bit of consolation.  I could leave her my e-mail address and the next year they would let me know when the season opens.

Cherry-Tyme

Sure enough, the next July I received an e-mail stating it was “Cherry Tyme!”  I recruited my dad to go up there with me and help pick.  We came away with 13 pounds of fresh, sour cherries of three different varieties: Montmorency, Balaton, and Morello.  The Montmorency were large, pale, very sour, and extremely delicate.  I used them for my pies, and they left me with memories I won’t soon forget.  The Balatons were small, firm, dark skinned, and not quite as sour as the Montmorency.  I thought these seemed most like the wild Marasca cherries of the old country, and used them for my Maraschino cherries with great results.  It’s been a year since I put them up and they’re still firm and delicious!  The Morello cherries were medium sized, dark fleshed, sour, and very flavorful.  For some reason they were the most attractive to me.  They embody a perfect balance between the other two varieties, and I used them to make my preserves.

Pitting was a bit of a challenge without a proper cherry pitting tool, but we got pretty good with bamboo skewers after the first hundred or so.

Cherry-Pitting
The cherry massacre!

The fun starts tomorrow morning June 27th at Cherry Tyme in Leona Valley.  Their hours are from 8:30 am to 4:00 pm; open daily until all the cherries are gone.  Bring your own boxes!

Cherry Tyme Sour Cherries:

39913 107th St West

Leona Valley, Ca 93551

(661) 270-0649

cherrytyme@email.com

Hope to see you there!  Recipes coming soon.

The Sidecar Cocktail

The Sidecar Cocktail

The Sidecar cocktail is said to have been invented by an American Army captain living in Paris during the first World War.  He was driven each night in a motorcycle sidecar, so it goes, to the small bistro where he helped conceive and christen this drink.  On those wintery Paris nights, having been chilled to the bone by his ride in the sidecar, the captain found nothing more warming and rejuvenating than the combination of Cognac Brandy, Cointreau, and lemon juice mixed in equal parts.

Perhaps he was nostalgic for a Daiquirí back home in Florida, and with no access to rum or limes, started improvising with what was on hand.  I can only guess at what his true inspiration was, but it led to a cocktail that could be considered one of the most classic and well known around the world.

On a more sinister note, the Sidecar’s popularity has noticed a steady decline over the past few decades.  This is due in large part to the fact that many bartenders are using cheap brandy, triple sec, and commercial sweet and sour mix to prepare this drink, instead of Cognac, Cointreau, and freshly squeezed lemon juice.  Trust me please, it would be false economics to cut corners on this particular drink.

I should mention, before posting the formula, that there are two popular schools of thought when it comes to the proportions of ingredients in this cocktail.  The more classic “French School” adheres to the equal triad described above, whereas the newer “English School” swears by a ratio of 2:1:1.  Having tasted both variations side by side earlier this evening I have to conclude that neither school is in the wrong.  The French Sidecar is light, refreshing, delicate, and well balanced, with prominent, though not overpowering citrus elements.  It felt like Spring in Paris.  The more complex and serious English Sidecar felt like fall or winter.  The Cognac was able to take center stage while Cointreau and lemon played backup.  The harmony was beautiful!  I recommend this method if you’re using a really fine Cognac or Armagnac and want it to to shine through.

Sidecar Cocktail (French School)

Ingredients:

  • 1 oz Cognac or Armagnac
  • 1 oz Cointreau
  • 1 oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Sidecar Cocktail (English School)

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 oz Cognac or Armagnac
  • 3/4 oz Cointreau
  • 3/4 oz Freshly squeezed lemon juice

Method:

  1. Combine ingredients in a shaker half full of ice.
  2. Shake or stir vigorously until very cold (no less than 20 seconds).
  3. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass.
  4. Garnish with a strip of organic or well scrubbed orange or lemon rind (optional).
  5. Enjoy!

Notes:

  • Any quality brandy can be substituted for the Cognac.
  • Any quality orange liqueur can be substituted for the Cointreau (Grand Marnier, Marie Brizard Grand Orange Liqueur, etc.).
  • Always use fresh squeezed lemon juice (Meyer lemons can be used with delicious results, but you may want to cut back on the Cointreau to avoid an overly sweet drink).
  • Some people like to sugar the rim of the cocktail glass, but I’m not one of them.
  • Experiment with different proportions and find the combo you like the most.
  • For more good reading on the Sidecar cocktail go here.

Eatwell Wheatberry Buttermilk Pancakes

A couple of months back we marked a delicious anniversary. We’ve been part of the Eatwell Farms CSA for over a year now, and I still open each produce box with the anticipation of a six-year-old on her birthday, feasting my eyes on each item before tossing it to one side in pursuit of the next. There are strawberries to taste, carrots to trim, tomatoes to smell, garlic bulbs to hang, and fresh, pasture grazed eggs to examine.

Our Eatwell box is part of the reason we don’t go to the Ferry Building on Saturday mornings as frequently as I would like–we usually have plenty of produce at home. But another reason is that, well, it’s easy to go a little wild. I’ll often come home with unlikely and unnecessary things like cape gooseberries (just to taste), pounds of cucumbers (for when the current pickles run out), and bags of mixed hot peppers (only $3!). One Saturday recently, I came home with a pound of wheatberries. No, we didn’t really need them, but I’d been reading about them in our Eatwell newsletter for months.

Our farmer, Nigel, started growing wheat a few seasons back when it became difficult to find organic feed for the chickens, and he has recently been offering a limited amount at the market.  On this particular Saturday, back when it was still summer, one of Nigel’s sons sat atop the bags of red grain, pouring berries from the scoop enticingly. However, when I asked about the small grinder on display, I learned that a pound of grain might take ten or fifteen minutes to grind. “Or you can soak the wheat in milk overnight and make it into pancakes in the morning.” Really? I forked over my one dollar and tucked my pound of wheat into one of our overflowing canvas bags.

According to Nigel, the pancakes are as easy as switching out the flour in your favorite pancake recipe with wheatberries.  At home that evening, I poured one and one half cups wheatberries into the blender, covered them with an equal amount of buttermilk, added the sugar, oil, and vanilla, and left them to soak overnight.  In the morning I switched the blender on and briefly puzzled over the damp paste that was developing.  Of course, I should have exchanged the flour for wheatberries by weight; unfortunately my aha moment came about 12 hours too late. Here was a blender full of half ground grain in a soupy thick mess of flour, and not enough wheatberries left to start over another day.

Luckily, pancake mix is forgiving.  Going by look and feel, I added more liquid, doubled the levening, folded in an extra egg.  And, just as Nigel promised, the pancakes turned out beautifully.  Several batches later, here, in honor of Eatwell Farm, is my favorite new pancake recipe.  The pancakes turn out a wonderful golden brown, and they are surprisingly light.

Ingredients

1 1/2 cups hard red wheat berries
2 cups buttermilk
1 cup low fat milk
4 tbs olive oil
2 tbs brown sugar
3 eggs
1 tsp vanilla
4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp baking soda
pinch salt

Method

The night before you make the pancakes, place the wheat, buttermilk, milk, olive oil, sugar, and vanilla in a blender, cover, and allow to soak overnight. In the morning, blend the mixture until mostly smooth. This part may take a little while. I gave my blender a couple of breaks so as not to burn out its motor. The mixture need not be completely smooth. A few small chunks of wheatberry give the pancakes a nice texture. Pour the batter into a mixing bowl and add the eggs, whisking to combine. Sprinkle the salt, baking soda, and baking powder over the batter and stir to combine well. Cook the pancakes immediately and serve hot!

Makes about twelve 8-inch pancakes