U-Pick, U-Cook

One of the great benefits of picking cherries in the Leona Valley is the ability to get real sour, or pie, cherries. Normally available in Southern California only in cans (in this case, a very distant second to the real thing), these are the ultimate cooking cherries.

There are three valley growers who specialize in pie cherries: Cherry Tyme, Harry’s Sour Cherries and Leona Valley Pie Cherries (see “Where to Pick Them,” this page). The season for pie cherries begins two to three weeks after sweet cherry season. This year, that should be about the third or fourth week in June.

If you don’t want to make the drive, there is still a lot you can do with the cherries you get in the grocery store. But they will need a little bolstering to achieve the depth and tang that comes naturally to pie cherries.

First, be sure to buy the best. Really ripe cherries are really dark red. It’s not an accident that many cherry varieties include “black” in the name--black tartarians, black eagles and the rare black republicans.


Add a drop or two of almond extract to any recipe including cherries and you’ll get a much deeper cherry flavor. That’s not as odd as it seems: Some cherry liqueurs and most cherry flavorings come from almond pits. Go slow; 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract is enough to flavor a whole quart of cherry ice cream.

I find that adding a little of a sweetish red wine vinegar also helps savory cherry dishes. Don’t use a real good one: What you’re looking for is a combination of sweet and sour, not a strong wine flavor. Balsamic vinegar helps too, but it’s not quite as true to flavor. In either case, the flavor of the vinegar should be almost subliminal. Add it very slowly and stop just when you get a tang.


Times Test Kitchen Director Donna Deane developed this recipe. The addition of just 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract has a remarkable effect on the flavor, making a very good thing even better.


1 pound cherries, pitted

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup brandy

2 cups milk


3 egg yolks, lightly beaten

1 cup whipping cream

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Dash salt


1/4 teaspoon almond extract

Combine cherries, sugar and brandy in medium mixing bowl, cover tightly and refrigerate overnight.

Drain cherry juice into small saucepan, reserving cherries. Over medium-high heat, reduce juice to syrup, about 10 minutes. Cool.

Gently heat 1 cup milk and egg yolks, beating constantly, until mixture thickens. Mix cooked mixture into remaining milk, add whipping cream and chill. When ready to make ice cream, add reduced cherry syrup, vanilla, salt and almond extract and freeze according to manufacturer’s instructions. Midway through freezing, add cherries.


Makes 1 quart, about 6 servings.

Each serving contains about:

350 calories; 101 mg sodium; 197 mg cholesterol; 19 grams fat; 30 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams protein; 0.13 gram fiber.



There’s nothing fancy about this recipe from Faye Levy’s “Fresh From France: Desserts” (Dutton; 1990) but you won’t find a cherry recipe more delicious. It’s especially good served over vanilla ice cream.

1 pound cherries

1 1/2 cups dry red wine

3 tablespoons sugar


1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 tablespoon red currant jelly or other red jelly

Cut off tips of cherry stems and leave rest of stems attached. Put cherries in heat-proof casserole that can also be used for serving. Pour wine over and add sugar and cinnamon. Cover and cook over low heat 10 minutes. Uncover and let cherries cool in wine 30 minutes.

Drain wine into saucepan, reserving cherries. Boil over medium-high heat until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add jelly and heat over low heat, stirring, until melted. Pour mixture over cherries. Chill thoroughly. Serve cold.


Makes 4 servings.

Each serving contains about:

150 calories; 10 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 24 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.20 gram fiber.




2 cups flour

3/4 teaspoon salt

6 tablespoons butter, chilled


1/4 cup lard, chilled

7 tablespoons cold water

Sift flour and salt into bowl. Cut butter and lard into small pieces and rub quickly into flour, using thumb to press fat and flour across fingertips. Don’t dally or fat will warm and make a greasy crust. When mixture is fairly homogenous, quickly work in cold water, using fork or wooden spoon.

Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead lightly about 3 strokes. Divide into 8 pieces, wrap and chill well.



2 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup water

1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon


1/2 cup butter

Cherry pits

5 teaspoons cornstarch

1 1/2 cups pitted cherries


4 drops almond extract

1/4 cup butter, softened

Boil together 1 cup sugar, water, cinnamon, 1/2 cup butter and cherry pits. Strain and cool.

Mix remaining 1 1/2 cups sugar and cornstarch well. Stir in pitted cherries, almond extract and 1/4 cup softened butter. Reserve.



Whipped cream, optional

These dumplings from Bill Neal’s “Biscuits, Spoonbread and Sweet Potato Pie” (Knopf; 1990) are almost like cherry turnovers, except they’re baked in the syrup. They are absolutely delicious.

Roll each piece of dough to 6x4-inch rectangle. Place 4 or 5 cherries and about 1 tablespoon sugar combination in center of dough. Wet edges of pastry with water, fold over and press with tines of fork to seal. Put in buttered baking pan. Pour syrup over dumplings. Bake at 375 degrees until pastry is golden brown and syrup in pan is lightly caramelized, about 25 minutes.


If sauce caramelizes completely, dissolve with a little water. Serve warm with whipped cream and a little sauce spooned over dumplings.

Makes 8 dumplings.

Each dumpling contains about:

797 calories; 487 mg sodium; 76 mg cholesterol; 33 grams fat; 126 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams protein; 0.14 gram fiber.



Mayi Brady came up with this recipe in The Times Test Kitchen as an accompaniment to grilled veal chops. It’s terrific with other grilled meats, too, and would be especially good with pork tenderloin.

1/4 cup chicken stock

8 cups very thinly sliced red onions (about 2 large)


1/4 cup balsamic vinegar

2 cups pitted cherries


Freshly ground black pepper


Bring stock to boil in large pot and reduce by half over medium-high heat. Add onions, reduce heat to medium-low and cook, covered, until very soft, about 45 minutes. Uncover and continue to cook, stirring occasionally, another 30 minutes. Add vinegar and cherries and cook until caramelized, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Makes about 2 cups.

Each 1/4-cup serving contains about:

36 calories; 63 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 8 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.24 gram fiber.


COLD CHERRY SOUP (Cseresznyeleves)

This is a classic recipe from Roy Andries de Groot’s “Feasts for All Seasons” (Knopf, 1966). The blending flour he calls for is commonly sold under the Wondra brand name.

3 pounds cherries (preferably sour), pitted

5 cups cold water


2 teaspoons cloves

1 (2-inch) stick cinnamon

1 1/2 cups sugar

3 tablespoons blending flour (see note)


2 to 2 1/2 cups red wine

1 cup whipping cream

Slowly bring cherries and water to simmer in 3-quart saucepan over low heat. Add cloves, cinnamon and sugar. Cover and simmer just until cherries are soft, 20 to 30 minutes. Drain cherry liquid into small saucepan, reserving cherries.

In small mixing bowl, combine flour and 5 tablespoons wine and whisk until smooth. Bring cherry liquid to simmer over low heat. Add wine combination bit by bit, whisking thoroughly between additions, and cook until cooking liquid thickens to texture of whipping cream. Add cherries to thickened liquid, discarding cloves and cinnamon. Refrigerate overnight.


Next day, thin soup by adding red wine, a little at a time, until soup is thickness of half and half. Stir in 1 cup cream. Taste and add more cream or more wine as needed to balance flavor. Chill before serving.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

Each of 8 servings contains about:

374 calories; 22 mg sodium; 41 mg cholesterol; 12 grams fat; 60 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams protein; 0.35 gram fiber.


* Cherry accessories from Doin’ Dishes, Santa Monica, Long Beach.