Champagne, Sour Cherry & Rhubarb Preserves

There is nothing like a chilled bowl of perfectly ripe cherries on a hot summer day.

Last year was a bust for stone fruit in my area owing to a nasty and ill-timed hailstorm. I do confess to breaking down and purchasing some Washington State imports in a moment of weakness after a sweaty bike ride out to Brighton Beach. They were good, but nothing like the ones I picked myself up at Fishkill Farms a few summers back.

That day called to mind strawberry picking with my mom as a small child. Why anyone would choose to let me wear white for such an activity, now or then, is beyond me. Based on my empty bucket and the stains down the front of my shirt, the folks at the cash register would have done well to weigh me upon entering and exiting and simply charge my mom for the difference.

But I digress. Last week’s CSA share brought a quart of honest-to-goodness local cherries. Alas, they were more tart than I had hoped and so they sat in my fridge for a few days while I mulled what to do.

A lovely pork blade chop from Flying Pigs Farm founds its way into my bag at the farmers’ market on Saturday morning. I’d stopped by with the intention of buying bacon to complement the first promising tomatoes I’d spotted this year. But one thing lead to another and, suddenly, I was tucking 12 ounces of beautifully striated pork into my bag. (It turns out I’m a sucker for a handsome man who speaks of pork the way most people talk about their first love.)

I had a small bundle of rhubarb that had been sitting in the back of the crisper for a couple of weeks. I imagined that the cherries and rhubarb would make a lovely sauce for my chop, but that would only make a dent in my fruit stockpile.

Then I remembered the previous night’s booze crime…

Louis and I had a date for a screening of Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte. We met up for dinner beforehand—mussels and frites for me, couscous with merguez for the gentleman. It was a lovely night, so lovely that I found myself declaring, “It’s such a lovely night!” as we swanned out of the café. Halfway down the block, with no awnings in sight on this lovely brownstone-lined side street, the skies opened. Within a matter of minutes, Louis and I looked as if we’d jumped in a pool fully clothed.

We took refuge in a nearby bar, ordering a round while we hatched a plan (and dripped all over the floor). Having determined that Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte was available for streaming, we headed back to my apartment and traded our drenched clothing for sweatpants and T-shirts. The previous week’s cat sitter had left a nice bottle of bubbly, which seemed like just the thing for such a festive occasion.

Fifteen minutes after the pop of the cork, I was asleep on the couch, my head resting on my dear friend’s shoulder. While Louis managed to stay awake for the whole movie, he didn’t do much better than me at drinking the wine, which I guiltily shoved into the fridge, uncorked, on my way to bed.

And so I give you this delightfully decadent dish…

Champagne, Sour Cherry & Rhubarb Preserves

  • 1 cup chopped rhubarb, tossed with 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 quart sour cherries, halved and pitted
  • 1 cup pink champagne (or whatever leftover bubbly you happen to have on hand)
  • 2 tablespoons Pomona’s Universal Pectin
  • 1.5 cups sugar
  • 2 tablespoons calcium water (see instructions in the pectin box)
  • 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla

Bring the bubbly to a boil in a medium heavy-bottomed pot. Combine the sugar and pectin powder in a separate bowl. Add fruit to your pot and bring back to a boil. Add sugar, cardamom, almond extract and vanilla, stirring vigorously for 3 or 4 minutes. Take off the heat. When the preserves are cool enough to handle, ladle into a couple of 1.5-cup mason jars (or whatever you have on hand). Let cool most of the way on the counter. Then screw the lids on and pop them in the fridge.

Cherry Rhubarb Champagne Preserves Hot

Don’t panic (as I did) if the preserves seem loose at first. This is what mine looked like after eight hours in fridge. The internet tells me it can take up to 48.

Cherry Rhubarb Champagne Preserves Set

Have it on toast. Serve alongside a soft, creamy cheese. I’ve been dropping a generous spoonful of these preserves into plain yogurt as an afternoon snack and can report that this is also a good strategy.

Sour Cherry Rosewater Crisp

I first moved to Sterling Place in January of 1997. Come spring, I was delighted to discover that the trees on my block did, in fact, have leaves. Even better, they exploded into flowers just when you needed it most.

There is a tree I am particularly fond of in front of the church at the end of my block. When we first met, this particular tree was an awkward adolescent–its gangliness heightened by what I take to be a grafting error. One branch of the tree flowers pink while the rest flowers white.

I pass this tree at least twice nearly every day. Shorter than the other trees on my block, it demands a certain attention that I suspect is somewhat irritating to those taller than me. As I passed under its branches on Thursday morning, It suddenly occurred to me that those red things dangling down looked an awful lot like cherries. (The fact that it took me 19 years to have this thought likely has something to do with the coffee shop being on the next block.) And so, like the compulsive foodie that I am, I snapped a shot and posted it online in order to crowdsource edibility.

Sour Cherry Tree

The verdict? Yep, you can eat it!

I had thought I might wait until dark to do the deed, but was overcome by the urge on my walk home from the train. I was a bit worried that someone would come out of the church and chastise me, but people mainly seemed amused. A few brave souls even joined me in a nibble. The lower branches were easy work, but the upper branches proved more challenging. I did manage to get a few more by balancing on the tree pit guard (probably not what the block beautification committee had in mind), but eventually had to accept that the rest would be left to the birds and those standing taller than 5’4″.

After whipping up a quick salad with this week’s gorgeous red leaf from Sang Lee Farms, I set to work prepping my cherries. Oona offered to help, but her lack of opposable thumbs proved a challenge.

Sour Cherries and Oona

Turns out it doesn’t take as long as you might think to stem and pit 529 (not counting the ones that went straight into my mouth) sour cherries. Within half an hour, I was preheating the oven and assembling my crisp.

Pitted Sour Cherries

Sour Cherry Rosewater Crisp

  • 529 sour cherries (about four cups)
  • 1 3/4 cups sugar
  • 3 tablespoons corn starch
  • 3 tablespoons rosewater
  • 1 lemon, zest and juice
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1/4 cup rolled oats
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 stick butter
  1. Rinse the cherries, place them in a large bowl, and find something to watch on TV. Stem each cherry, transferring it back to another bowl as you do so. Grab stemmed cherries one by one, squeezing with your dominant hand and popping the pit into your other hand. (Under no circumstances should you be wearing white while performing this task.) Drop the pitted cherries back into your first bowl. 
  2. Preheat the oven to 375. Stir 3/4 cups of sugar, the corn starch, the rosewater and the lemon juice and zest into the cherries and let sit while you make the topping.
  3. In another bowl, combine the remaining cup of sugar along with the flour, rolled oats, salt and baking powder. Cut all but one tablespoon of butter into small pieces and drop into flour mixture. Using your hands and pinching the butter with your fingers, combine until it forms a nice crumbly texture.
  4. Pour the cherries into a small baking dish. (If you happen to have a heart-shaped pie tin that you bought years ago at a stoop sale, now would be the time to deploy it.) Layer the flour mixture on top and then dot with small pieces of the remaining tablespoon of butter.
  5. Bake for 45 minutes or so until the fruit is bubbling around the edges (you’ll know because it will be oozing onto you oven floor unless you had the foresight to lay some foil on the lower rack) and the top is golden brown.

BEFORECrisp Pre-Bake

AFTERCrisp Post-Bake

THE NEXT DAY AT THE OFFICE (because, while you are perfectly capable, you probably don’t need  to eat a whole crisp)Sour Cherry Rosewater Crisp


How to Eat Cherries (in the Middle of a Heat Wave)

Summer is upon us. On Sunday I escaped from the sweltering city to the slightly less sweltering Hudson Valley. Despite a weekly influx of fresh fruit from my CSA,  I couldn’t resist stopping off at Fishkill Farms for a little pick your own action. The sun was so strong that the strawberries and I were reddening at an alarming rate.
Strawberry Picking

The cherry trees offered some welcome shade and some succulent fruit, though I could have used the help of someone a bit taller. Standing on my tippy toes, I managed to fill a couple of quarts–and also rain quite a few cherries down upon my head.

I left a mixed quart with my little sis in Poughkeepsie and polished off a good quantity on the winding late night drive home along the Taconic Parkway, the supermoon guiding my way. Somehow I managed to reserve enough cherries for one of my favorite recipes.

How to Eat Cherries (in the Middle of a Heat Wave) 

  1. Rinse your cherries and place them in a ceramic bowl in the refrigerator for at least a couple of hours.
  2. Pour yourself a nice glass of rosé  and strip down to your skivvies. (There is a variation on this recipe wherein you simply roll up your shirt, which is acceptable if not quite as delicious.)
  3. Grab the cherries and a juicy novel, crank the fan on high, and sprawl out in the middle of your bed.
  4. Place the chilled bowl of cherries on your stomach and commence to indulge.

If anyone has tips for getting cherry juice out of sundresses and sheets, I’m all ears!