In early May, Southern California shoppers stalk farmers market stalls, impatient -- some might say a little fruit-crazed -- for the season's first cherries
By now, with California's cherry harvest reaching its end and reinforcements arriving from the orchards of Washington and Oregon, we've grown happily accustomed to the pints of Rainiers and Tartarians, Bings and Queen Anne's, filling the market pints like big, ruby marbles. Maybe we've loaded them into cobblers and muffins, and now need a little inspiration -- nothing too fancy, but recipes with a slightly unexpected spin.
Like a flat-out gorgeous whole-grain bread studded with cherries like garnets. Spill a pound of halved scarlet Bings into a bowl with basic quick bread ingredients -- whole wheat flour and brown sugar give the crumb a nutty, earthy flavor -- then add toasted pine nuts, some fragrant fennel seeds. A simple mix-bake-cool (resist the urge to cut this bread hot) and you've got a tasty breakfast -- perfect with a hot cup of joe and maybe a nub of honey butter
Cherries are best known in desserts, either farmhouse rustic or in dainty pastry shop configurations, but they have a terrific affinity for main courses too.
Make a quick relish of chopped cherries -- Bings or Tartarians or any ripe red cherry -- red onion and yellow bell pepper. Add a splash of lemon, another of balsamic vinegar. Then stir in fresh minced tarragon: The faint anise flavor of the tarragon is an unexpected note. Pair the easy chutney with grilled meat or chicken -- or duck, which is sublime with cherries.
For dessert, try a slightly unusual take on the fruit salad. Add wedges of ripe apricots (it is stone fruit season, after all) and cubes of honeydew melon to halved cherries. Macerate the fruit in sugar, lemon and lime juice and a dash of sweet white wine. Just before serving this salad, add minced fresh basil.
So load your proverbial cherry bowls to the brim -- look for ripe cherries with a glossy surface and supple stems -- brush up on your Chekhov (um, that would be "The Cherry Orchard"), and enjoy the fruits of the season.