Sweet and Savory Cherry Recipes

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PHOTO: JOHN PARRISH/FOOD STYLING BY TRISH DAHL
Cherry cheesecake bars.

MOTHER’s Kitchen column shares how to make the most of your crop of cherries, including a number of delicious sweet and savory cherry recipes.

Sweet and Savory Cherry Recipes

Michigan is fighting the title of Cherry Capital of the
World, and Anne Vassal defends the home turf with the best
fruit recipes you’ve ever tasted. We can’t wait for our
annual journey to southwestern Michigan for a day of cherry
pickin’. Those ripe, juicy cherries almost fall into our
hands, with many of them ending up in our mouths. None of
those supermarket Pacific Bing cherries for me, nor would I
dream of buying hard, tasteless South American or New
Zealand cherries in the dead of winter. I can wait for the
real thing. OK, so I’m a slightly biased ex-Michiganer, but
cherries don’t get any better than Traverse City in
mid-July. (Door County, Wisconsin, is close behind.) Last
summer my teenage son ate two pounds of sweet cherries
while traveling home alone on a plane from Traverse City.
His excuse for not saving me even one was, “They were too
good.” Anyway, after we pick more cherries than we can
possibly consume, we treat ourselves to a huge piece of
cherry pie from the local bakery. (Sure, I know there’s
lard in the crust but I don’t care.)

Even though Traverse City, Michigan, and Vignola, Italy,
both claim to be the cherry capital of the world (Traverse
City grows more cherries but Vignola’s been growing them
longer), it’s the Pacific Northwest that accounts for 70
percent of the sweet cherry production, while Michigan
produces three-quarters of our sour (or tart) cherries. Why
have a sour cherry? Mostly, they’re needed for commercial
processing into frozen and canned products such as pie
filling. Some folks swear by fresh sour cherries for their
homemade pies. And we can thank those same cherry plants
for producing the maraschino cherries swirling in the
bottom of our Shirley Temple cocktails.

Nutritionally, cherries are very much like most fruit in
that they contain antioxidants such as vitamin C and
betacarotene. Plus, they are loaded with fiber, and studies
have shown that fruit fiber can help fight high blood
pressure, heart disease, and certain types of cancers. Take
advantage of this season’s cherries by using them in
muffins, pancakes, fruit shakes, salsas, salads, jams, and
of course, pies. And there’s no need to limit cherries just
to desserts. Ray Pleva, a butcher in Cedar, Michigan, found
this out when he began to experiment with using tart
cherries in his ground beef and sausage. It was only after
his daughter was crowned National Cherry Queen that Ray
became aware of some of the problems facing Michigan’s
troubled cherry industry. He not only developed a
healthier, better-tasting burger but he found that the
cherries’ antioxidants kept the meat fresher longer. Ray
continues to make a dent in Michigan’s cherry surplus by
distributing his cherry meat all over the country.

This brings to mind the question of why everyone east of
the Mississippi is buying Northwest cherries at the
supermarket instead of locally grown fruit. According to
James Flore, professor of horticulture at Michigan State
University, rain is the industry’s biggest problem. “Ripe
berries will split open if they get wet at the wrong time,
making the crop unpredictable.” Supermarket chains can’t
gamble on the weather when they’ve placed orders and
arranged for advertisements months in advance, says a
Chicago produce manager. Sure, Northwest growers have the
same problem but their huge industry can afford overhead
orchard fans or helicopters to blow the water off the
cherry orchards. Once again, big business reigns. But who
needs jet-lagged fruit? Take a drive and find a local
produce stand.

Choosing Cherries

The most popular Northwest sweet cherry is the venerable
Bing. These large cherries will be a dark burgundy color
when fully ripened. The smaller, heart-shaped Lambert
cherry is similar in taste to the Bing. A strange-looking
yellowish cherry is an extra-sweet hybrid called the
Rainier. In the Midwest, the Schmidt is a variety similar
to the Bing. Other sweet cherry varieties of that region
are the Emperor Francis and the Rainier. Tart cherries can
sometimes be found at local farm stands for use in pies and
preserves. When picking out fresh cherries, make sure
they’re firm (but not hard) and without soft spots or
bruises. The stems should be green and not darkened with
age. Wash the cherries and pat dry and then store them in a
plastic container for up to two weeks. Cherries deteriorate
rapidly if they’re not kept refrigerated.

Cherry Coffee Cake Recipe

This easy coffee cake can be made even faster in a food
processor, and it’s great for more than just breakfast.

Topping:
1 tablespoon hard or partially frozen butter, chopped
into cubes
1 teaspoon flour
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 tablespoons thin oats

Cake:
1/4 cup canola oil (or any mild oil)
1/4 cup honey
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup low fat buttermilk
1 1/2 cups sifted whole wheat pastry flour or unbleached
white flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 cup fresh or frozen cherries, halved (sweet or tart cherries)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit In a food processor or using
a strong fork, mix the topping ingredients (except the
oats) until small crumbs form. Briefly mix in the oats.
Pour into a bowl and set aside. Lightly grease an 8- or
9-inch round cake pan. In the processor or using a mixer,
mix well the ingredients up to the buttermilk. Stir
together the flour, baking powder, and soda. Briefly mix
into the wet mixture. Pour half the batter into the pan.
Spoon the cherries evenly over the batter. Spoon the rest
of the batter over the cherries. (Some will show through.)

Sprinkle on the topping. Bake for 30-35 minutes until
lightly browned and an inserted toothpick comes out clean.
Cool for ten minutes before slicing into wedges.

Grilled Chicken Salad with Cherry Vinaigrette Recipe

Next time you have the grill fired up, grill a few extra chicken breasts for a summer salad the following day.

2 boneless chicken breasts, cut in half to make four pieces (about 1/4 pound each)
Olive oil, salt, freshly ground pepper
Optional: fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary
About 8 cups assorted garden lettuce or greens such as baby romaine, leaf, red oak, endive, arugula, spinach (about 1/2 pound)
1 medium red onion, halved and sliced thin
10-15 radishes, sliced thin

Vinaigrette:
1 cup fresh cherries, pitted
2 1/2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons canola oil (or any mild oil)
1 tablespoon sugar
1/2 cup cherry juice
2 teaspoons grated ginger root (peeled first), dash salt, cayenne pepper and/or freshly ground pepper

In a blender, combine the ingredients for the vinaigrette.
Chill in a jar until ready to use. (The dressing can be
strained for a smoother appearance.) Brush the chicken with
oil and sprinkle with salt, ground pepper, and any fresh
herbs you may have. Grill and chill until needed. Wash and
dry the salad greens. Toss with the onions and radishes.
Slice the chicken diagonally into thin strips. Just before
serving, toss the lettuce and vinaigrette. Lay the salad on
the plates and top with the sliced chicken. Garnish with
chopped fresh herbs.

Maple Cherry Sauce Recipe

Here’s a sauce that can be used hot or cold as a topping
for grilled meats, yogurt, ice cream, or cheesecake. We
used it instead of frosting for chocolate birthday
cupcakes. Tart cherries may be used but you’ll need to
adjust the sweetening.

1/4 cup cherry juice or juice blend
1-1/2 teaspoons arrowroot flour*
2 tablespoons real maple syrup
2 cups pitted fresh or frozen sweet cherries, halved

In a glass measuring cup, whisk together the juice and
flour. In a large skillet, pour in the juice and the maple
syrup. Stir over medium heat until the sauce starts to
thicken. Add the cherries and simmer until they soften,
smashing them a bit. Don’t overcook. If the sauce isn’t
thick enough, whisk a little arrowroot flour (about one
teaspoon) together with a tablespoon of juice and then add
to the sauce. Cool or serve hot. It thickens a little as it
cools. Option: 1 teaspoon grated orange rind or 1
tablespoon brandy. The recipe will make one cup of sauce.

*Arrowroot flour is a healthier and better-tasting alternative to cornstarch. It can be found at health food
stores.

Cherry Cheesecake Bars Recipe

These low-fat bars are an easy dessert to take to a family
barbecue. Just remember to start the yogurt cheese the day
before. This recipe makes a big batch.

3 cups low fat vanilla yogurt (for yogurt cheese). Brands that contain modified food starch and/or gelatin
won’t form correctly, so I use either Dannon low fat or Stonyfield Farm.
2 cups Maple Cherry Sauce (see recipe above)

Crust:
2 cups crushed graham crackers (Frookie makes a
healthier cracker.)
5 tablespoons mild oil (canola)
2 tablespoons brown sugar

Filling:
1-1/2 cups yogurt cheese
2 eight-ounce packages “lite” cream cheese (Neufchatel)
1/2 cup real maple syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 large eggs

The day before: Line a colander with cheesecloth or a
non-terrycloth dishtowel. Pour in the yogurt and let drain
in the sink or a pan for at least 12 hours but not more
than 18 or so. If it’s 80 degrees or above, it might be a
good idea to stick the colander in the refrigerator. It
will take a little longer this way. When the yogurt is
almost the consistency of cream cheese, remove from the
dishtowel and store in a plastic container in the
refrigerator until ready to use. It will keep about three
days. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Have a 9-by-13-inch pan
ready. Place the crackers in a large Zip-Lock bag and crush
with a rolling pin. In the processor or by hand, mix the
oil and sugar into the crackers. Pat into the cake pan. In
the processor or using a mixer, beat the yogurt cheese and
cream cheese together. Beat in the maple syrup and vanilla,
then the eggs. Bake for 40 minutes until the top is lightly
browned and the center has puffed up. (It will fall when
cooled.) Cool to room temperature, then refrigerate for at
least three hours. Just before serving, spread with the
cherry sauce and cut into bars.


Too Many Cherries

IF YOU’VE MANAGED to acquire such a bumper crop that you
need to store your fruit for more than a couple of weeks,
freezing and drying are the best bets. The only equipment
you’ll need beforehand is a cherry pitter and surgical
gloves (unless you want red hands for days). To freeze, lay
the washed cherries, pitted or not, on a jelly roll pan in
a single layer and place in the freezer. When they’re
solid, place in labeled Zip-Lock freezer bags and they
should keep well for up to a year. Never defrost cherries,
however, before using in your cooking or baking because
they become a mushy mess.

IF YOU’RE A BIG FAN OF RAISINS, you haven’t lived until
you’ve tried dried cherries. This is a great way to use up
overripe or smashed fruit, and they are an incredible
addition to muffins, granola, cookies, and grain dishes.
Arrange cherries (if sliced, place skin side down) on
foil-covered cookie sheets or jelly roll pans. Place in a
200 degrees Fahrenheit oven for four to five hours until the cherries
are shriveled. They should be leathery and slightly sticky,
not hard. Cool, then store in Zip-Lock bags or plastic
containers. I recommend storing homemade dried fruit in the
refrigerator or freezer because moisture still present in
the fruit may cause some bacterial growth. Dried fruit will
also taste fresher longer if kept in a cool place.