I went to a friend’s house for breakfast a few days ago, and she placed an enormous colander full of ripe cherries in the center of the table. Gazing at it made me feel like we were experiencing the very quintessence of summer. It was right up there with the feeling of walking barefoot in wet grass or eating fresh corn on the cob.
The sight of it reminded me that another friend once told me she had heard of an old British wedding tradition in which the youngest person at the celebration would be allowed to eat as many cherries as he or she could possibly consume. The notion was that because of this extraordinary privilege, that day would be remembered for as long as that person was alive, and it was assigned to the youngest person present so the day would be recalled for the longest possible time.
Whether the day was remembered happily (“Ah! That was the day I ate as many cherries as I could consume!”) or unhappily (“Ugh! That was the day I ate as many cherries as I could consume … the day that put me off cherries forever!”), she did not say. I’ve tried and tried to find documentation of this tradition, to no avail. I like the idea, though, and certainly there are few things on earth that seem more luxurious than being able to eat as many ripe, delicious cherries as one can fit down one’s gullet.
I’m a fan of both tart and sweet cherries, and I like them in all their incarnations: fresh, in a pie, in a cake, in a tart, you name it. I even like Maraschino cherries, which I am happy to report are now available in an all-natural version. I developed a fondness for them as a very small child, when my dad would give me cherries that had been sitting in his Manhattan, soaking up bourbon and sweet vermouth. I almost choked on one of those cherries when I was about three, and I remember being held upside down by my feet while my dad shook the cherry loose. When I was a teenager, I heard him tell the story of my cherry-flavored brush with death to one of my friends; he finished it up by saying, “Oh, we would have been so embarrassed if she had died that way!” I assume they would have been grief-stricken and guilt-ridden as well, but embarrassment got the top billing.
One of the cherry desserts that I most enjoy is a cherry clafouti. A clafouti, sometimes also spelled clafoutis, is sort of like a super-eggy, slightly sweet pancake. It’s flat and dense rather than light and puffy. (I was trying to describe it to one of the vendors at the local farmers’ market last summer but I couldn’t remember the name of it. A guy on a bicycle who was listening in said, “Oh! You mean a clafouti!” “Yes!” I said, gratefully. “Thanks, Guy on the Bike!” added the vendor. That’s why I love the farmers’ market. That and all the food, of course …)
Some recipes for clafouti call for Kirsch, a clear cherry brandy, which makes sense. I prefer an almond flavor in my clafouti, however, so I use a little bit of almond extract. As it happens, cherries and almonds are related to one another — and almond syrup used to be used to make Maraschino cherries. I tried Amaretto and didn’t like it as much as I like the clear, light flavor of the almond extract. Feel free to try using Amaretto, however — and if you make this with preserved cherries during the winter, you might enjoy the heavier, darker taste of Frangelico.
Authentic French recipes for clafouti call for leaving the pits in, because doing so is supposed to give added flavor to the pancake. Speaking as someone who has broken her teeth on an olive pit in “olive and pimento” cream cheese (yeah, olive and pimento and pits!) and a pebble secreted in some hummus, I strongly suggest pitting the cherries. Diligently!
Recipe for Cherry Clafouti
Serves 6 well or 8 modestly
1 cup flour
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup cream
2 cups pitted cherries
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 cup powdered sugar for garnish
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-inch pan. (I like to use a ceramic or glass pie pan, since I serve this in the dish at the table.)
Whisk the eggs and the extra yolk, then add them to the flour, sugar, milk, cream, and almond extract. Pour this batter into the pan. Add the cherries. Bake and start checking at about 30 minutes. It usually takes about 35 to 40 minutes. It does not brown — you just want it to be slightly firm and thoroughly cooked.
Sprinkle a little bit of powdered sugar onto the clafouti before serving. It’s nice to do this through a sieve; you don’t have to use the entire quarter cup of sugar. By the way, powdered sugar contains cornstarch, so you might want to get an organic version in order to avoid genetically modified corn.