Cherries are in season, and while it’s tempting to simply gobble them fresh by the handful, there are plenty of other interesting – and rewarding – ways to enjoy them.
When sweet cherry varieties like Ulster, Cavalier, Hedelfingen and Regina ripen fully on the tree, they burst with deep, intense dark cherry flavor, making them excellent choices for use in recipes, both traditional and novel. The long history of cooking with sweet cherries is evident in the wide variety of old fashioned desserts and preserves, like cherry cake, clafoutis, tarts, conserves and jams, but for those who enjoy unusual flavor combinations, our recipe for Sweet Cherry and Pasilla Chile Preserves is worth trying.
Cherries and chile peppers may not seem to be a likely combination, but the dried pasilla (pah-SEE-ya) adds amazing complexity and a mysterious and intriguing flavor to our easy-to-make cherry preserves. The word pasilla literally means “little raisin,” a name give because of the dark color and wrinkled surface of the dried chile. Pasilla chiles are used in many traditional sauces, including the famous Mole Negro of Oaxaca, where they contribute complex notes reminiscent of dark berries, chocolate and port wine.
There are dozens, if not hundreds, of distinct varieties of chile peppers that developed over centuries of careful selection in the New World, long before contact with Europeans. But despite the chile pepper’s fiery reputation, many of these chiles are quite mild when it comes to heat and are used to build layers of complex flavor in traditional dishes.
Pasillas are one of the least spicy of chiles, so don’t be afraid to use them liberally. Their haunting, naturally sweet-smoky flavor makes a mysterious addition to many desserts, especially those containing fresh berries, dried fruit, spices or chocolate. Vary the amount of chile to your personal taste; we used one full tablespoon. You may want to use as little as 2 teaspoons or as much as 2 tablespoons. It all depends on your personal preference.
Sweet Cherry & Pasilla Chile Preserves
4 cups pitted coarsely chopped sweet cherries (about 1 lb whole cherries)
- 2 cups sugar
- juice of 1 medium lemon
- 1 Tbsp coarse pasilla chile powder, or to taste (instructions follow)
Wash, pit and halve or coarsely chop the cherries. Place in a large, non-reactive pot with the other ingredients over medium high heat. Bring to a low boil, stirring frequently as the cherries release their juices. Continue to cook, stirring often, for 5 – 6 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium, stirring continuously, as the cherry mixture thickens. Cook for an additional 5 – 6 minutes or until the liquid is quite thick and bubbly.
Remove from the heat and spoon or ladle into jars. Store refrigerated for several months, or process in a hot water bath for longer term storage at room temperature.
Pasilla Chile Powder
1 oz dried pasilla chiles
Remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and tear or cut into pieces. Heat a dry skillet over medium heat. Add the chile pieces to the pan, pressing them down with a spatula. Turn to toast all sides, taking care that they do not burn or scorch. When dry and fragrant, remove to a baking sheet to cool. Put into a blender, food processor or spice grinder and pulse into a coarse powder. Store unused portion in a tightly sealed jar.
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