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Sunday, June 20, 2010

The Sour Cherries Arrive

Being a Michigander by birth, I love sour cherries. There is no better marker of a summer well lived then a sour cherry pie.

Normally sour cherry pies arrive just in time for Independence Day parties, but this year the cherries are early. Maryland doesn't have much of a cherry crop, and many years it fails. Bauhger's pick-your-own orchards has a one-week sour cherry season, and it started two days ago. I'd like to report that I was out there on ladders picking away, but I went the lazy route. I stopped at the famer's market for pasture raised meat, then headed to the farm market for 2 five-gallon buckets of cherries. Pre-picked.

I was hardly alone. Baugher's was buzzing. The line at the cherry pitting machine (see photo) was long, and I noticed a couple of things - my purchase was light in comparison to others, and there were a lot of women in head scarves. I couldn't contain my curiosity, so I asked a couple of gentlemen in line ahead of me what they were planning to do with their rather massive amount of cherries.

Turns out that sour cherries are a regular part of Persian cuisine, and one of the men was going to freeze them for use the rest of the year. A drink was one possibility, but his favorite dish was a Persian rice with sour cherries. He said that one could always make the rice in a rice cooker, but he liked the "old-fashioned" way of soaking, then boiling, then steaming the rice. The other man in the conversation did a quick search on his iPhone for recipe, and it was easy to find. It sounds scrumptious, and we will have it with our Father's Day celebration today. Here's the recipe I am using:

Abaloo Podow – Persian Sour Cherry Rice

About 40 small sour cherries

2 cups rice - basmati is preferred

Big pinch of saffron in 2 tablespoons of warm water

3/4 stick butter melted

Rinse rice till water runs clear. Soak rice for an hour. Boil rice 8 minutes in plenty of salted water. Strain rice. Add half the butter to large enameled dutch oven or other pot. Add half rice and stir a bit.
Add half cherries and half saffron/saffron water evenly in layers.
Layer on the other half of everything starting with the rice.

Put a kitchen towel over the top of the pot, then add the cover. This helps keep the steam in.
High about 8 min, low about 20.

Some of the recipes call for it to be layered in the steaming pan in a pyramid shape; it is supposed to develop a crust. I will try it that way and see what happens.

It was so nice talking top this Persian man - it really made my day that he would share this dish with me, and I hope he and his wife eat their cherries in good health all year.

The other man in line with me told me that he will freeze the cherries in small bags with some Splenda and eat them as a frozen treat all year. He grew up coming to Baugher's with his dad and finding the sound of the cherry pitter machine to be a comforting sound of childhood, and makes him miss his dad. Awwww. A sweet memory - that's why I took the picture of the machine!

I don't know either man's name, but thanks to both of them for sharing!

Last night I spent many hours re-packing the cherries so the huge bag would not explode in the refrigerator where we stashed it while going to hear my husband at a cello recital. Now they are packed in bags, measured out for a mega-harvest-preserving session. From 2 5-gallon buckets of cherries, I am making:

1. Four or five pies. I use the classic Joy Of Cooking version - impossible to be better. Having homemade pies in the freezer means I am always ready for a potluck or have something special for company. I'm using Karen Mahan's pie crusts this year - but still having some crusts in the freezer so they will be ready for when the blueberries ripen in a few weeks.

2. Two batches of sour cherry jam. Not low-sugar - it is a treat and will be treasured as one! I also don't like the freezer variety except for the time involved because the texture is not as firm and thus doesn't spread as well. I don't like the hot steam of a hot water bath canner, but I like the results. I may need to get a pressure canner if I keep this up all summer, though.

3. A traditional Hungarian sour cherry soup. In eastern Europe, this is a first course; here, often a dessert. It sounds yummy either way.

4. The Persian rice - and I am so sure that we will love it that I am counting out the amount for several more batches and freezing them.

5. Two batches of tart cherry liqueur. I made homemade limocello last year, and it was yummy, especially in champagne. I'll try this - takes at least two months - and perhaps give it as gifts at Christmas.   

6. A cherry crumble. While my mom could make a really good pie, what I remember most about dessert in my childhood was the crumbles, slumps, and cobblers. Our favorite was "cherry goo", and I think the crumble is getting close to the "goo" of my memory.

All these cherries make my Michigan heart sing!

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