I took the time to carefully pluck the rest of ProFarm‘s ripe, but not quite soft, Bing Cherries last week. How could I resist! They were on sale for 2.50/lb for anyone who took a minute to bag them themselves.
Market Tip: If you see Bing Cherries this weekend, pick out the ones that have their stems still attached and are bright and dark shiny red, almost black. They should feel firm to the touch, without soft or brown spots, cuts, wet or sticky clumps or shriveled stems.
I am always wary when buying cherries, since they are usually quite expensive for fruit – sometimes $6/lb – and since they can so easily stain surfaces. But when I first spot them at the market, I think to myself of all the tender care – the irrigation, the labor, and delicate handpicking – that the farmers must undertake to bring these easily damaged delicacies to market. I think of their luxurious sweet, but tart taste. Their sheen of dark ruby or purple, the traditional color of royalty. And I remember they are more than worth the sticker-shock and stains. I can think of no more decadent looking fruit. It is no wonder they have been valued as a delicacy for centuries, cultivated since at least 300 BC by the Greek, the Romans and even Egyptians.
We live here in Cherry Country. Over half the U.S. sweet cherries are grown in Oregon or Washington. The ‘Royal Ann’ cherries were named by one of the first major Oregon cherry growers, who hauled his hundreds of trees through the Oregon Trail, finally settling in Milwaukie. This grower, Henderson Lewelling, and his brother, famously went on to breed the most popular cherry today, the Bing.
If you can manage to resist popping all your market cherries down as snacks, I highly suggest you put the rest in this simple cake recipe. You can leave the cherries whole and spit them out while eating it. The French would call this a “Cherry Clafoutis or Clafouti” (pronounced kla-foo-TEE). But if you want an easier time eating it, go ahead and pit and quarter the cherries. The Joy of Baking suggests that if you do not have a cherry pitter, then
“Make a small slit in the cherry, with a small sharp knife, at the stem end of the cherry. Then, using the tip of the knife
or your thumbnail, remove the pit. This process is best done over a bowl so any dripping juice will fall into the bowl and not stain your countertop. Because the cut cherries immediately start to release their juices, it is important to use them right away. “
Either way, you’ll want to thank Lewelling for bringing his cherries over to Oregon, and our local farmers for bringing them to market. Enjoy!
Cherry Clafoutis or Whole Cherry Custard Cake
Adapted from Joy of Baking
1 cup all purpose flour (or 1/2 cup all purpose and 1/2 cup whole wheat)
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 large eggs
1/4 to 1/2 cup granulated white sugar depending on how much of a sweet tooth you have
3/4 cup milk (whole, reduced fat or almond)
1 tablespoon to 1/2 cup melted butter or camelina oil
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
3/4 pound (or 1 1.2 cups) fresh sweet cherries, pitted or not
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F (220 degrees C) and place the rack in the center of the oven. Butter, or spray with a non stick cooking spray, a 9 inch (23 cm) spring form pan and line the bottom of the pan with a round of parchment paper.
Wash the cherries. Remove the stems and pits if you wish.
In your food processor or blender (or you can do it by hand with a wire whisk) place the flour, salt, eggs, sugar, milk, butter, and vanilla extract. Process for about 60 seconds, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Once the batter is completely smooth, pour it into the pan. Scatter the cherries on top, letting them sink into the batter.
Bake for about 18-20 minutes or until the clafoutis is puffed, set, and golden brown around the edges. Do not open the oven door until the end of the baking time or it may collapse. Serve immediately with a dusting of yogurt, creme fraiche or softly whipped cream.
Serves 4-6 people as a breakfast/brunch dish.