A rainy day in summer means a day in the kitchen preserving fruit. If you’re lucky enough to grow (or have access to) cherries, then cherry pie is a wonderful place to start.
But there are plenty of other ways of preserving cherries as well.
A member of our Grow Great Fruit family Christine got us inspired with this photo (below). It’s two types of cherry (white-fleshed Rainier, and red-fleshed Lambert), preserved in two different ways.
The jars on the left are cherry conserve (like a cherry jam), and the two jars on the right are cherries in brandy. Aren’t they gorgeous? It’s so satisfying to see home-grown produce prepared so beautifully.
How many ways to preserve cherries?
Having a glut of cherries that need using quickly can put your ingenuity to the test. (However, it’s a very good problem to have.) This is a problem we had to deal with a few years ago, during the big summer floods.
Over that rainy summer we had a group of three WWOOFers (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) staying with us. One of them was Laura, a very creative chef. Laura loved having access to so much fresh fruit and was keen to try as many different preserving techniques as possible.
It was perfect timing because we had rather a lot of rain-damaged cherries.
We started with modest ambitions of drying some cherries. To compare methods we did two batches – one in the electric dehydrator and one in the oven.
You can also dry fruit in a solar dehydrator if you have one, but they’re not compatible with rainy weather. (Click here for instructions on how to make your own solar dehydrator.)
We decided that the dehydrator was easier than drying them in the oven. However, there wasn’t much difference in the end product. Here’s how they turned out.
We’ve bottled cherries (which our American visitors insisted on calling ‘canning’) plenty of times before. We normally just use simple sugar syrup as the bottling liquid.
Laura wanted to try something different. She threw together a mix that included star anise, cinnamon, and cloves. When we tried them later they were spicy and delicious, with the warm spices perfectly complementing the flavour of the cherries. This recipe has definitely entered our regular repertoire.
Baking with cherries
Then the baking started, with both dried cherries and fresh.
One of our favourite recipes to come out of the day was these dried cherry and oatmeal cookies. In Australia, we’d call them biscuits, but we named them in honour of our American guests.
Dried Cherry Cookies
1 1/4 cups butter
1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1 tspn vanilla essence
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 tspn cinnamon
1/4 tspn nutmeg
1 tsp baking powder
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup dried cherries
Cream the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla essence and mix well. In another bowl mix the dry ingredients together. Add to the butter mixture. Fold in the dried cherries and chopped walnuts. Put spoonfuls onto a greased baking tray and bake for 8-11 minutes in a moderate oven.
More cherry baking, and desserts
Laura also invented two cherry-flavoured muffins: cherry and chocolate, and cherry, peach & coconut. She also tried an experimental recipe for cherry and peach scones.
By this stage of the day, we were getting pretty full of cherry goodness, but Laura hadn’t finished. Is it possible to eat too many cherry treats? Hmm, no.
Thoughts turned to dessert. Chef Laura got excited about making a cherry tarte tatin.
It started with sugar, dotted butter, and some fantastic Sam cherries in a frying pan. Cherries can be surprisingly bland when cooked, but Sam have a slightly tart tang to them, making them a more gourmet type of cherry. They are absolutely wonderful to cook with.
They simmered away until the liquid had reduced to a delicious syrupy consistency.
The pie dough then goes on top of the cherries, and into the oven. Once cooked, the tarte is upturned on a plate and eaten with creme anglaise.
For most people, that would have been enough. But we still had to have (as promised at the beginning of this blog) cherry pie.
Two cherry pies, in fact.
Melissa braved the elements to pick some rhubarb to make a rhubarb and cherry sauce to serve with the pies.
Kirsten and Laura got creative with some divine latticework (see in the photo at the top of the blog). Note the cherry on top of one pie, and the goat on top of the other, in honour of our friends at Holy Goat cheese.
Cherries are often overlooked as a fruit for preserving and baking. Possibly because they are at the higher-value end of the fruit range. They also ripen around Christmas time in Australia, when a lot of people might not have time for preserving.
Cherries have some specific issues you need to be aware of to grow them successfully, but they’re well worth the effort.
A single tree mature tree can easily yield 20-30kg. Cherries are one of the most delicious fruits you can grow. And with so many different ways of preserving and baking them, they’ve got to be one of the best fruit trees to include in your backyard.