Tuesday 27 July 2010

Harvest Cherries and Attract Vegetarian Vampires

If someone had said to me a couple of years ago that some day, I would be picking cherries from my very own backyard, I would probably have told them not to give up their day job for that fortune teller vacancy. But here I am, mid July, in my garden, looking up at a Cherry Tree laden with cherries that are literally ripening by the second.

I am both amazed and in awe of this little tree and its amazing capacity to produce such a mass of perfectly formed crimson coloured fruit with the kind of uniformity you would only expect from a production line. But there is no technology behind this, this is nature left to itself and at its best.

Our Cherry Tree grows in a sunny position and is about seven and a half feet tall. Its exact age and variety is unknown, but it is more than ten years old.  Standing in front of all this crimson fruit conjures up all kinds of fantastical imagery and I half expect a wicked old witch shrouded in a black robe, to pop out from behind the tree asking if I would like to sample some lovely cherries (coated in a posionous syrup, of course!).  Ohhh well.... everyone needs to have a Snow White moment at least once in their lifetime!  

How and when to pick cherries
There is an art to picking cherries to ensure you don't destroy next years crop.  Using your thumb and index finger, carefully twist the stem 180 degrees near the base (that is, where it is attached to the branch).  It will come away easily from the tree and avoid tearing any bark off the tree.  Leave the stems intact as this will help the cherries keep better.

Cherries will not ripen off the tree, so only pick the ones that are ripe and ready for what you are going to use them for. With our tree, the cherries went from crimson red (very tart) turning a deeper almost burgundy colour as they ripened, at which time they were actually palatable fresh (somewhat sweeter but still tart, so not to everyone's taste).

What to do with all these cherries?
(L) Cherry Fizz (R) Sweet & Sour Cherry Pork

After all that cherry picking, its time to cool off with a Cherry Fizz made from fresh cherry juice and tonic water. Sparkling water or champagne would also work nicely!

Its also time to feast on "Sweet and Sour Cherry Pork" which is basically a fusion variation of the popular Chinese dish.  In this version, I have shallow fried strips of pork and topped it off with a sweet and sour sauce made from fresh cherries, sugar and lemon juice. 

Pitting, Juicing and Preserving
(L-R) Homemade Cherry Jam; pushing cherries through a sieve; removing stones to make jam

How to extract Cherry juice fit for a Vegetarian Vampire
As there are so many pips to deal with, the quickest way to extract this blood red juice is to get a sieve and gently push the cherries through (try using the back of a spoon). You will be impressed by the amount of juice that each cherry produces and also by how much it looks like the stuff vegetarian vampires feast on.

Always remember to wear an apron, as squishing round fruit can get messy! And having deep red liquid and matter splattered all over your clothes is not only unattractive, but will make you look like you've just stepped off the set of a horror film (and completely ruin your Snow White moment!).

How to stone/ pit cherries
You can either buy a Cherry pitter or do it manually. Using a bamboo skewer or toothpick, pierce the top of the cherry and run it around the pip. Gently press the fruit from the bottom and the pip will pop out.

When you have fruit, you make jam
And of course, when you live in England and you have a glut of fruit, there is no better way to preserve it than to adopt the British tradition of jam making! Since arriving here, I have been overwhelmed by the amount of jam making and giving that goes on in this country! It must sound strange, but I have only seen jam being made from pineapples or coconuts ("kaya") or lotus seeds!! It never really occurred to me that one might make jams from strawberries or cherries!

For my foray into making Cherry Jam, I have used the essential ingredients of cherries, sugar and lemon juice.  Cherries contain only small amounts of pectin, so lemons are used to help give the jam a jelly like consistency.  I am using ordinary sugar without pectin and it worked just as well.

Happy Cherry picking and remember to clean up any mess so as not to attract any of those pesky vampires... unless they are Robert Pattinson, of course!!

Cherry Fizz and Cherry Jam recipes are here
Sweet and Sour Cherry Pork recipe coming soon
Cherry pitters are available from Lakeland  or alternatively try this Cherry Chomper or Eddingtons Cherry-It pitter at Amazon

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