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Posts Tagged ‘sour cherries’

Food Photos 2 through 7

Apple and white chocolate pie

I love to make pies! This one was an experiment about a month before Thanksgiving. It’s an apple pie sweetened with a combination of white chocolate and quince jelly and it tasted fine.

More than 12 days ago, I took on a seven-photos-in-seven-days challenge, put up a post about it, and faded. Recovering from major surgery hasn’t been all that hard, but I have slept a lot more than I usually do. Unfortunately, whenever I try to focus on writing, I suddenly get drowsy. When I wake up an hour or three later, the muse has left me… or there’s some other thing to do.

It took me 12 days to review my photos from 2015. I selected way more than I can use in three “seven-photos” challenges… and I’m packing six of them into this blog post.

Some of these photos are favorites because they call back good times, others because they capture stuff I’ve published in the local newspaper but haven’t been able to share with my social networks.

Learning to make pie

Two Japanese students lived with us for nearly three weeks in 2015. The visit included an evening at a county fair, hiking on a gorgeous nature trail, a day trip into New York City, and many home-cooked meals. One evening I gave pie-making lessons and our Japanese daughters assembled a delicious peach and blueberry pie.

Homemade paneer

Indian cuisine is one of my favorites, and the nearest Indian restaurant is about an hour’s drive. To compensate, I’ve learned some basics and have settled on certain standard dishes—but I also experiment, trying to produce passable versions of a few challenging dishes. Paneer (a cheese that doesn’t melt) is a key ingredient in some of those dishes, and when I can find it in stores, it’s ridiculously expensive. So, I make my own. This block drained for several hours under the weight of a heavy pot of water. It’s ready to be cut up into cubes and gently fried in oil before being added to a spinach-based curried gravy.

Curried sweet potato soup

A friend who had recently become vegetarian was coming to dinner and I didn’t have a plan. Shopping inspired me to make yeast bread and curried sweet potato soup. I could have added more liquid to the soup, but it was rich and delicious and I featured it in an article I wrote for our local newspaper. Curried squash and curried sweet potato soups are among my favorite meals.

Garden-fresh pasta sauce

Apparently, in early September I intended to publish something about homemade tomato sauce—for pasta or pizza. I posed some ingredients and captured photos, but things didn’t progress beyond that. The upshot: this representation of garden-fresh ingredients I’d use to flavor a skillet of pasta.

U-Pik Sour Cherries

This stretches the “food” theme a tad, but it captures one of my favorite food experiences of all: the annual sour cherry harvest. Sour cherries have a dramatically more intense cherry flavor than that of sweet cherries and they’re crucial for making jams, jellies, preserves, and baked goods that involve cherries. Most people aren’t at all familiar with sour cherries. There’s a grower near us that opens its orchard for “you-pick” customers a few days before harvesting what’s left for commercial buyers and I love going with my wife (picking here in her sour cherry camouflage) to strip handfuls of fruit from the heavily-laden branches.

Small Kitchen Garden – Food Photos 2 Through 7

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Sour Cherry Mash and Custard Pie

Sour cherries are generally brighter and redder than sweet cherries. They are also a bit juicier and softer. The tartness of the fruit and the cherry flavor stands out when you use sour cherries in baking. In contrast, it’s easy to overwhelm the flavor of sweet cherries and lose them in your baked goods.

The cherry tree in my small kitchen garden is, perhaps, one season away from beginning to produce fruit. That doesn’t stop me from cooking with cherries. Among my favorite cherry-based products are Sour Cherry Jam, Sour Cherry Pie, and Sour Cherry Syrup. My wife sometimes makes Sour Cherry Jelly … and her jelly led me to Cherry Mash and Custard Pie.

Cherry Mash Pie

To make jelly, you extract the juice from fruit, add sugar and pectin, and cook. After you extract the juice from cherries, you have some volume of damp mashed cherry bits that look ready for the compost heap. The idea of composting the mash irked me.

So, one season I rescued the mash and baked it up in a pie. I made the pie as I would a whole-fruit sour cherry pie, though I reduced the amount of flour in the pie filling. The juiced cherry bits were down almost a quart of liquid, so a few tablespoons of flour would be enough to thicken the filling.

A Sour Cherry is Hard to Find

Few people in the United States ever encounter sour cherries in their natural form. Most of these delicacies go directly from orchards to factories where they end up in pie fillings, jams, toaster pies, and other heavily-processed baked goods. I have never seen fresh sour cherries in a grocery store, and it’s hard even to find them at farmers’ markets and produce stands.

Why? For one thing, sour cherries tend to be “in-season” for about two weeks a year. Even if you live near them, you have to be on your toes to get ahold of any. Perhaps of even greater influence: sour cherries are SOUR! People who know sour cherries don’t generally eat them plain because the cherries are just that tart. If you put heavily-sugared raw sour cherries in fruit salad, each one you ate would be an unpleasant sour bomb exploding in your mouth.

The tartness of sour cherries makes them spectacular for cooking! Add sugar and heat, and the three combine to make delicious confections. The flavor of sour cherries is so intense that it holds up just about any way you prepare the fruit. Sweet cherries, in comparison, have a very mild flavor that gets lost easily when you mix in flour, shortening, sugar, and seasonings.

The pie was just fine but it lacked volume. So, the next time around I included custard in the filling. It added volume and made the filling a bit less dense. The pie was perfect! Here’s how to make your own:

A custard pie traditionally doesn’t have a top crust. I’ve made cherry mash and custard pies with and without top crusts. It’s good both ways, but I prefer it crustier. That notwithstanding, please make pie the way you prefer (unless you’re inviting me to dessert).

Line a Pie Pan with Dough

For someone who hasn’t made pie, the most challenging task is making a decent pie crust. Rather than write the instructions in every article I post about making pie, I’ve created instructions on a separate page.

If you have a favorite pie crust recipe, line a pie pan with dough and move along to the instructions for making filling. Follow this link for instructions on making pie crust the way I do it. I promise this is a stupid-easy way to make dough and it’s really hard to mess it up. When you’ve lined a pie pan, come on back and make the filling.

Ingredients for pie filling

3 cups mash left from juicing sour cherries
1 cup milk
1½ cups sugar (less if you like a tart pie)
2 eggs
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Sour cherries are generally brighter and redder than sweet cherries. They are also a bit juicier and softer. The tartness of the fruit and the cherry flavor stands out when you use sour cherries in baking. In contrast, it’s easy to overwhelm the flavor of sweet cherries and lose them in your baked goods.

Procedure for pie filling

In a medium-sized bowl, stir the flour into the sugar. Then add the milk and eggs and stir vigorously. I use a whisk and beat until the mixture is smooth and uniform. Stir in the cherry mash and the filling is ready. See? It’s all about the crust.

Finish the pie

Pour the filling into the prepared pie pan. Then add a lattice-style top crust. The instructions for that are back on the how to make pie crust page.

Put the pie on a baking sheet that can capture drips – a jelly roll or pizza pan works well, and bake it in a 375F degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour. The pie is ready when the crust is golden brown and the center of the filling is firm. I test a custard pie by jiggling it while it’s still in the oven. If the center moves separately from the rest, it needs ten to fifteen more minutes in the oven. Don’t be afraid to bake it for 75 minutes if that’s what it takes.


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Sour Cherry Jam from a Kitchen Gardener

When you can reach a cluster of sour cherries like this in the tree, you can wrap your fingers around the whole bunch and pull them all off the branch at once. Even in the second (and final) day of pick-your-own cherries, there were thousands of such bunches you could reach from the higher rungs of a stepladder.

It’s sour cherry season! Perhaps you’ve heard of sour cherries, but you’ve never seen them? In early summer, dark purple sweet cherries show up in grocery stores everywhere and they’re available for months. Sour cherries, however, ripen about the end of spring and are done two or three weeks later. You never see them in grocery stores.

Sour cherries are bright red and very tart. They’re also very juicy and I suspect most of them end up at manufacturing facilities that bake them into pies, tarts, frozen dinners, and just about any other processed food that lists “cherries” as an ingredient. You may find sour cherries at rural farm stands and farmers’ markets, but arrive early and grab what you’ll use because there are rarely enough sour cherries to supply enthusiasts.

Sour Cherries at Your Small Kitchen Garden

I planted a sour cherry tree a few years ago, but it probably won’t produce for another year or two. So, when sour cherry season arrives, I either buy cherries at the farmers’ market, or my family travels to a u-pick orchard to get out annual fix. We picked on Saturday.

A quart of already-picked sour cherries may cost $4 or more. The you-pick price at Dries Orchard in Paxinos, Pennsylvania this year was $1.20 per pound (about a quart). For an extra 25 cents a pound, Dries put our cherries through a mechanical device that removed nearly all the seeds. And, a Dries employee checked the mechanical pitter’s work, picking out most of the seeds the machine missed.

We picked too many cherries. I’ve canned sour cherry jam and fruit punch jam that includes sour cherries. I’ve also made two sour cherry pies. This morning my wife canned two batches of sour cherry jelly. Thankfully, there are only about 17 quarts of sour cherries left in the fridge.

I tweeted a lot about sour cherry jam while I was making it. I also clicked a bunch of snapshots of the proceedings. If you’re so inclined, follow the instructions in the photo captions and you should be able to make your own sour cherry jam; it’s really easy to do.

Before you start, you’ll need a box of powdered fruit pectin or some bulk pectin such as Dutch Jell. You’ll also need the cherries, of course, a whole bunch of sugar, canning jars, canning lids, and canning bands. The photos reveal what kitchen gear you’ll need to complete a batch.

In my book, Yes, You Can! And Freeze and Dry It, Too from Cool Springs Press, I explain jam- and jelly-making in greater detail. I also explain a lot of other ways to preserve fruit and vegetables. I hope you’ll make some cherry jam and pick up a copy of my book to keep you busy through the rest of the produce season.

You’ll preserve your cherry jam by sealing it hermetically in jars. For this, use jars manufactured specifically for canning; don’t reuse jars that came filled with pickles or jelly from a grocery store. Also, you need canning lids and bands to fit the jars. I encourage you to wash the jars and put them in a deep pot of water to boil before you start cooking your jam. The water should be deep enough that you could stand a canning jar in it and the top of the jar will be at least an inch under water. Also, put the bands and lids in a pot of water and keep the temperature there just below boiling.

Chop the sour cherries, catching the juice along with the chopped pieces. Notice that while chopping, I found a pit. The mechanical pit-remover and the back-up human inspector had missed about one pit per quart of cherries. I use a honking big chef’s knife to chop cherries for jam.

We’re making traditional cooked jam… there are other methods for making low-sugar jams, no-cook jams, and freezer jams. We’re making traditional cooked jam. (Is there an echo in here?) For nearly every brand of powdered fruit pectin, you use four cups of chopped sour cherries per batch of jam. Doubling a batch can result in runny jam or jam that sets up like a rock, so it’s best to make one batch at a time. Measure four level cups of fruit and juice into a medium-sized cookpot (see next photo).

Measure five cups of sugar into a bowl (left) and set it near your stove so you can reach it while stirring a pot. If you’re using bulk pectin (Dutch Gel, for example), measure a heaping 1/3 cup (center), and add it to the fruit (right). If you have pectin in a box, empty the box of pectin onto the chopped cherries. Notice that in my 1.5 gallon sauce pot, the chopped cherries and fruit fill barely a quarter of the pot.

Put the heat on high and stir! Keep stirring! Are you still stirring? Don’t stop. Stir until the mixture boils. Yes: that may take 8 to ten minutes. Pause in your stirring, if you must, to add all the sugar at once to the hot cherries. Stir. Keep stirring. Feel for large lumps of sugar and smear them against the side of the pot to help break them apart so they’ll dissolve. Are you still stirring? At the moment the mixture boils, time one minute and immediately remove the pot from the heat. BEWARE! While cooking jam boils, it can rapidly foam up and overflow even a very deep pot. Stirring helps prevent this, but you may have to lift the pot off the burner and/or turn the heat down a bit to keep the jam from boiling over. When the jam stops boiling, use a spoon to coral foam to one side of the pot and then scrape the foam off. I always put it in a bowl to eat later.

One-by-one, fill jars with jam. Fish a hot jar out of the boiling water, empty the jar, and set it on a plate. I use a canning funnel to help control the jam which you should add until it’s about ¼ of an inch from the top of the jar. Make sure the rim and threads of the jar are clean (wipe them with a damp cloth if they’re not), then set a lid on the jar and add a band.

Tighten the band. I hold the jar in a potholder or a kitchen towel and I twist the band on firmly (it’s hot, but not too hot). It should be at least “finger tight” but don’t work so hard that you tear a muscle. Return the jar to the boiling water and set it up upright in the pot. Keep filling jars until you’ve used up all the jam. When the last jar goes into the boiling water, wait ten minutes, then remove the jars (upright) and place them on a cooling rack or a towel on the counter.

Contrary to what most canning guides tell you, I say do this: After the jars seal (you should hear a “ping” and be able to see that the center of the lid bows down into the jar), invert them and let them cool in this position about 45 minutes until they are very warm, then once again set them upright. If you don’t partially cool them upside down, the cherry bits will float to the top and half the jar will contain jam while the other half contains jelly. You can store sealed jars at room temperature for a year or longer, but I think you should open them and eat the jam instead.


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