Cherries are the Only Fruit
An integral part of our culture and landscape, British cherries have been star performers this summer. Even better – I've also spotted Dorset Cherries grown on a farm near Blandford. All this is excellent news, given that in the 90s British cherries almost disappeared. Ninety per cent of the orchards were grubbed up and we mostly made do with imported cherries. Luckily, in 2008, food writer Henrietta Green spearheaded the Cherry Aid campaign, supported by some of the country's best-known chefs. Thanks to the renewed interest, orchards were replanted in traditional cherry-growing areas, while farm shops, greengrocers and supermarkets countrywide began to stock British cherries and also to name the specific varieties.
For me, cherries are the only fruit. Nothing quite equals the crunch of firm flesh and taut skin followed by an intense flood of sweet tangy juice. Like apples, they are incredibly diverse; some varieties are commonplace, such as 'Summer Sun' or 'Stella' – the equivalent of Cox's apple, say – while others are rare treats (see Varieties). In size they range from corpulent fleshy fruits to those no bigger than a raspberry; colours range from deep inky black to translucent scarlet and albino cream.
Most cherries on sale in the UK are the sweet dessert type but occasionally you might come across tart morello cherries, commonplace in the rest of Europe. Worth buying for their intense flavour – some would say mouth-puckering – these are the ones to use for jam-making, bottling and liqueurs.
Cherries are so good eaten straight from the bag that it seems a shame to do anything more with them. However, they do make gorgeous desserts. Add them to a compôte of dark fruits – raspberries, blueberries, mulberries, say – or use in a crumble with crimson-fleshed plums. Lightly poached with a splash of kirsch, they are ambrosial spooned over puffy walnut pancakes.
Cherries and chocolate are another not-to-be-missed culinary experience; use them instead of raspberries in chocolate tartlets, or have a go at making Black Forest gateau, a glorious concoction of chocolate, cherries and cream.
Cherries also make sensational ice cream. Try my recipe for Two-Cherry Yogurt Ice. I've combined luscious fresh cherries with tart dried cherries to ramp up the flavour and add a bit of texture. Made with thick Greek yogurt, this is lower in fat than traditional ice cream, but still unctuously rich and creamy.
Moving on to savoury things, cherries work well with duck, pork or any type of game, either softened alongside the meat or in a sauce. Simmer pitted cherries slowly in a fruity red wine until soft. Blitz and sieve, then bubble for a few minutes with stock or meat juices. Season with plenty of black pepper, a squeeze of orange juice and a teaspoon of clear honey perhaps.
Thanks to a mild winter and wet spring, this year's UK cherry season continues into early autumn. There are still plenty in the shops and markets, so do make the most of them while you can.
Varieties to look for
'Early Rivers', large black fruits, tender flesh.
'Merton Bigarreau', large purple-black fruits, firm juicy red flesh.
'Rainier', scarlet and cream fruits, crisp flesh.
'Reine Hortense', sour morello variety, rich carnelian-red fruits, yellow flesh.
'Stella', large dark red juicy fruits.
Cherries do not keep very well. Eat on the day you buy them or store in a cool place, preferably not the fridge, for 1–2 days.
© Christine McFadden 2016