It’s been said that “One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.”
Cherries are a summer fruit, a small red globe that tastes of sun and warm days. Adults frequently forget how to appreciate the goodness of simple things like long summer afternoons and berries picked from a tree and put straight into a red-stained mouth.
Perhaps cherries taste so good because they remind us of carefree summers and drives in the country, stopping at a roadside stand to buy fruit, picked at the peak of ripeness right there in the farmer’s orchard. Cherries do taste better when eaten fresh than when cooked. Sure, cherry pie is a wonderful thing, but it can’t compare to a plump juicy cherry, still warm from the summer sun.
Sadly, most of the cherries we buy in the grocery store aren’t as good as they could be. Why? Because most cherries are picked before they’re fully ripe, simply because slightly underripe cherries hold up better when shipped. Unlike some other fruits, cherries don’t continue to ripen after they’ve been picked, so it’s rare to experience the full flavor of a cherry ripened to the peak of perfection.
Most of us don’t have cherry trees growing outside our doors, but we can still enjoy cherries the way they were meant to be eaten. Every summer, Earthy Delights brings in fresh, hand-picked tree-ripened cherries from Michigan’s Cherry Capital, Traverse City.
Warm Michigan days and cool lakeside nights make for the tastiest and sweetest cherries you could ever want. Our fresh Michigan cherries are picked with stems on and are quickly cooled, but not washed. All of this extends the shelf life of the cherries – but not at the expense of flavor. These perfectly ripe cherries are firmer, darker and more flavorful than anything you can get from any supermarket.
One of our favorite cherries is a tart variety called “Balaton.” Balaton cherries are not a sweet, Bing-type cherry; they’re slightly tart, but loaded with intense cherry flavor. This cultivar has only been intensively developed since the 1980’s, but it comes from stock that has been grown for generations in the towns and villages of rural Hungary, where cherries figure prominently in folk culture and the national cuisine.
The Balaton cherry is larger, plumper, and significantly more flavorful than the red tart cherries traditionally used in cherry pies. This, combined with the Balaton cherry’s deep, natural red pigment, makes it a favorite of cooks and pastry-chefs. When you use Balaton cherries, you don’t need to add food coloring or as much sugar to your favorite pie recipe.
But if you ask us, the best way to enjoy Balaton cherries (or any cherries, for that matter), is fresh, without any cooking whatsoever. Their juicy flesh and sweet-tart taste is something you shouldn’t miss. Just ask any child or bird.
Fresh Cherry Tartlets
Using fresh cherries without cooking them really brings out their bright, summery flavor. When we can get them, we love to use Balaton cherries in this simple dessert. Balaton cherries have loads of tart cherry flavor, but are sweeter than other pie cherries, so they really don’t need any additional sugar. If you can’t find fresh Balaton cherries, use dark sweet cherries instead.
- 9 graham crackers (each 2 1/2 by 5 inches)
- 2 Tbsp sugar
- 6 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
- 1 pound fresh Balaton cherries, or other cherries, pitted and halved
- 1 Tbsp seedless raspberry preserves
- 2 cups pastry cream, or as needed (recipe follows)
First, make the pastry cream and allow to cool for at least an hour or up to a day in advance (see recipe below).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. In a food processor, pulse the graham crackers and 2 tablespoons of the sugar until finely ground. Add the butter, and process until combined.
Divide the mixture evenly betwen 4 small tartlet pans with removable bottoms or 1 9-inch tart pan. Press the mixture firmly in a thin layer into the bottom and up sides of each pan; use your fingers or a clean glass to press it in. Place the prepared tartlet shells onto a baking sheet and slip them into the pre-heated oven. Bake until lightly browned, about 10 to 12 minutes. Remove and allow them to cool completely on a wire rack.
When the crusts have cooled, spread a few spoonfuls of the pastry cream in each one. Scatter the pitted, sliced cherries generously on top.
Combine the preserves and 1 teaspoon water in a small pan and heat over low until smooth and liquidy. Using a pastry brush, lightly dab a little of the glaze on the cherries. Place the tart in the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes or, covered, up to a day.
Pastry Cream Filling
Makes 2 cups
- 4 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 1/4 cup cornstarch
- 1/4 tsp salt
- 1 1/2 cups milk
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 Tbsp (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
Whisk together the egg yolks, sugar, cornstarch, and salt in a medium pan until well blended. Whisk in the milk. Place the pan over medium-high heat, and cook, whisking constantly, until the mixture begins to thicken to the consistency of pancake batter. At this point, immediately remove the pan from the heat, continuing to whisk briskly. It WILL continue to thicken up, and very quickly too. Stir in the vanilla, then whisk in the cut pieces of butter a few at a time. Continue to whisk until all the butter is melted and fully incorporated and the texture of the pastry cream is smooth and silky.
Pour the warm pastry cream into a bowl. Lay a piece of plastic wrap directly onto the surface of the pastry cream; this will prevent a skin from forming. Place into the refrigerator and allow to cool for at least an hour and up to a day.
Many of the ingredients used in this recipe, and other recipes on the Earthy Delights Blog, can be purchased online at our retail website, Earthy.com. We welcome you to visit the Earthy.com website to view our extensive selection of hard-to-find ingredients and our complete Recipe Collection of over 500 tested recipes.
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