Here’s a hint for those pitting sour cherries for the first time. This variety is smaller than the deep red cherries that respond so well to kitchen gadgets, like pitters. I find that the best way to remove a pit from a sour cherry is with an elongated paper clip. Stick the (cleaned) metal post into the heart of the cherry, draw a circle, and push. The pit will pop out almost immediately. Or, per Melissa Clark’s suggestion, position a cherry over an empty wine bottle and pierce it with a chopstick. The pit will fall to the bottom of the bottle, while the cherry remains pit-less and intact.
Traditional cherries represent seasonality in produce, and sour cherries are seasonality in hyper-drive. Cue the modern homesteader’s clarion call for preservation. Sour cherries are practically born to be saved—and savored. Turn them into jam, preserve them in alcohol, freeze them whole, or reduce them to a syrup … the possibilities are almost endless. If you’re up to the challenge, sour cherry preserves will hold in the fridge for a really long time, which means a perpetual reminder of summer’s bounty on one’s morning toast.
Still, the sour cherry should not be confined to sweet dishes or drinks; its applications extend beyond the expected. “I was living in Chiang Mai,” Almond chef Jeremy Blutstein told me of his first-ever experience with the elusive fruit. “I remember sitting down and having this roast pork with sour cherry garlic sauce.” That pork stayed with Chef Blutstein, who still holds a torch for the short-lived fruit. His wistful remembrance of Thai Pork Past transported me to my own food memory. Chef David Chang, whom I worked under in the mid-2000s, had pickled still-green strawberries in a sweet-savory brine to accompany a raw piece of kampachi. The dish was perfect: Balanced, fatty, bright, memorable. Couldn’t a sour cherry prove an equally formidable pickling partner?
My instincts, it turns out, were correct. With cherries frozen from last season, I adapted Chang’s pickling recipe (which tends toward the sweet, with more sugar than salt in the brine), adding chiles de árbol, per Chef Blutstein’s recommendation. “When I think sour cherry,” he said, “my mind just goes to chiles de árbol.” These small, thin Mexican chiles, sometimes called “bird’s beaks,” have a nutty, grassy flavor that complements the bright fruit completely. The pickles can be used in infinite iterations. I like the sour-sweet flavor with duck, a Long Island classic.
Pickled Sour Cherries(Adapted from David Chang):
2 c. very hot tap water
¾ c. sugar
1 ½ tbsp. kosher salt
1 c. rice wine vinegar
2 c. sour cherries, cleaned and pitted
4 pods chiles de árbol, 2 whole, 2 crumbled (substitute japones or Thai bird chiles if unavailable)1. Combine the water, vinegar, sugar, chiles, and salt in a mixing bowl and stir until the sugar dissolves.
2. Pack the sour cherries into a quart container and pour the brine directly over the fruit. You may have some remaining brine, which you can reuse for other fruits and vegetables as you like. Allow pickles to sit for several days before using. They will keep for up to a month in the refrigerator.Sour Cherry Preserves(Adapted from Martha Stewart)
3 lbs. sour cherries, cleaned and pitted
2 ½ c. sugar
2 tbsp. lemon juice1. Place several plates in the freezer for later use.
2. Sterilize the mason jars that you will use for your preserves. Bring a large pot of water to boil. Add jars one at a time, adding the lids separately. Boil for 10 minutes and remove with tongs. Place on a clean kitchen towel to cool. Keep the stockpot on the stove for later use.
3. In a medium stockpot, combine sour cherries, 1/4 cup sugar, and lemon juice. Place over medium-high heat. Cook, stirring frequently, until sugar has dissolved, 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in one-third of remaining sugar, and cook, stirring, until it has dissolved, 1 to 2 minutes. Add sugar in two more batches, stirring each batch until sugar has dissolved.
4. Bring the mixture to a full boil, and cook, stirring frequently, 10 minutes. Place a candy thermometer in the mixture and cook, stirring frequently, until the temperature registers 220 degrees. Skim any foam that may rise to the surface.
5. Once the temperature has reached 220 degrees, perform a gel test: Remove one of the plates from the freezer and place a spoonful of the jam on it. Return the plate to the freezer and wait 1 minute. Remove plate from freezer and gently nudge the edge of the jam with one finger. If the jam is ready, it will wrinkle slightly when pushed. If the jam does not wrinkle, cook for an additional 2 minutes and repeat this process.
6. Place a sterilized jar on a clean surface and insert a canning funnel. Using a ladle, pour the jam through the funnel into the jar and fill to within 1/4 inch of the rim. Wipe the rim with a clean, damp towel. Screw down the band on the lids and tighten firmly, being careful not to force it. With the tongs, stand the filled jar in simmering water. Repeat with the remaining jam and jars, making sure the jars aren’t touching sides of pot and are spaced 1 inch apart.
7. Raise the heat to high, cover stockpot, and bring the water to a boil. Process jars in the boiling water for 10 minutes. Using the canning tongs, transfer the jars to a wire rack to cool completely. Let jars stand 24 hours. Check cooled jars for slight indentation in the lid that indicates a vacuum seal. Store jam in a cool, dark place for up to 1 year.Duck With Pickled Sour Cherry Sauce(Adapted from Food & Wine Magazine)
1 c. red wine
1/2 c. pickled sour cherries
1 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
6 duck breast halves
Salt and pepper
½ lb. shiitake mushrooms, stems removed, caps thinly sliced
2 shallots, thinly sliced
½ c. water
2 tsp. Dijon mustard1. In a small saucepan, combine the wine and pickled dried cherries and simmer over low heat for 3 minutes. Set aside.
2. Score the skin of the duck breasts in a crisscross pattern and season aggressively with salt and pepper. In a cold, nonstick pan, place the breasts skin side down and turn the heat to medium, allowing the fat to render off slowly. Let the breasts cook for 7-10 minutes, making sure that the skin does not get too brown. Once the excess fat has rendered off and the skin is golden brown, flip over and cook the opposite side for 3 to 5 minutes. An instant-read thermometer should read 125 degrees. Allow to rest.
3. While the duck breasts are resting, add the mushrooms and shallots to each skillet. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring once, until they are browned, about 4 minutes. Uncover and add the water to the skillet. Simmer over medium-high heat, scraping up any browned bits from the skillet, until the water has reduced by half, about 4 minutes. Add the cherry-and-wine mixture and simmer until reduced by one-third, about 3 minutes. Stir in the Dijon mustard and season with salt and pepper.
4. Cut the duck breasts crosswise into 1/4 -inch-thick slices and arrange them on a warmed platter. Pour any carving juices into the sauce. Reheat the sauce briefly and pour it over the duck.
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