Food Friday: Cherries

17 12 2010

Ok, y’all. I’ve got to ‘fess up to something embarrassing. Up until a couple years ago, I had never had a cherry. Oh, I thought I had. You see, when a friend of mine at work offered me a plump, fresh cherry, I politely declined, saying “they’re a bit too sweet for my tastes.” She insisted that this was an exceptionally good bunch, and that I really should try one, so I did. And then, I think I proceeded to eat the majority of her morning snack.

Because, somehow or the other, I grew up thinking that maraschino cherries were cherries. I guess neither my mom or dad cared for them, so we just never had them in the house, and somewhere along the line I guessed that the candy I got on the top of an ice cream sundae was it. Sure, I figured they were in some sort of syrup, but the basic sickly sweet bright red concoctions were the real thing. Was I ever wrong! Now, I just can’t get enough.

While cherries are technically speaking a summer fruit, I associate them with Christmas, partly because of their red color, but partly because Christmas just isn’t until I’ve had some of my Mamaw’s chocolate-covered cherries.

Cherries are a stone fruit, in the same family as peaches and plums. They are a great source of antioxidants, and have been shown to reduce inflammation. Some new studies are hinting at possible fat-lowering properties, as well as decreases in heart disease, cholesterol and diabetes. Sweet, tart, good for you — sounds like a super fruit to me! And, they’re just so pretty!

For today’s Food Friday, let’s spend a little time learning about cherries. Hopefully, you’ve got some tucked away from the summer harvest, but if not, you can find them canned, frozen, or just wait for the summer to come back around! And there’s always my favorite, maraschino.

  • Cherries come in many different varieties — Bing, Lambert, Royal Ann, Early Richmond, Montmorency, and Sour (which are excellent in pies, by the way).
  • Choose bright, shiny, plump fruit when purchasing. You want them to be firm, but not hard. Stemmed varieties last longer.
  • You can refrigerate cherries in a plastic bag for about a week, or freeze them for a year. If freezing, squeeze as much air out of your freezer bags as possible, and they’ll stay fresh longer. Cherries thaw fairly quickly. Simply set them out for around 30 minutes at room temperature.
  • Wash just before using, and if you’re pitting, go from the stem end first. (Don’t have a fancy cherry pitter? Just use a plastic drinking straw and poke through end to end.)
  • Think of using dried cherries (which you can find these days in most supermarkets) in anything you’d use raisins — salads, cookies, cakes, bread.
  • If you’re making a pie with canned cherries, and want it to have that picture perfect red hue, the canning process removes a little of that desired red color, so add a couple drops of red food coloring in your filling or cobbler to brighten it up. It’ll be our little secret.
  • Pure almond extract goes beautifully with cherry flavor in your desserts. Add a little to make that cherry flavor really yummy!

Mamaw’s Chocolate Covered Cherries

You can certainly make cherries by simply dipping fresh, stemmed cherries in melted chocolate, but Mamaw goes the extra step and rolls in sugar to add extra sweetness. Think of the boxed Cordial Cherries you can buy, only so much better! Here’s her recipe.

You’ll need:

  • 2 jars of maraschino cherries with stems
  • 2 1/2 cups confectioner’s sugar
  • 1 tablespoon almond extract
  • 1 package milk chocolate chips
  • 2 tablespoons shortening
  • butter
  • milk

What to do:

  1. While you’re making up all the ingredients, lay your maraschino cherries out a paper towel to drain moisture.
  2. Line baking sheets with wax paper.
  3. In a small bowl, cream together butter, confectioner’s sugar, milk, and almond extract. You’re looking for a fondant consistency, so if mix is too soft, add more confectioner’s sugar until desired consistency is reached.
  4. Lightly sprinkle your working surface with sugar and knead your mixture into a ball.
  5. With (clean and dry!) fingers, flatten about 1 teaspoon mixture into a flat disc, about 2 inches around (about the size of a silver dollar). Mold this around a cherry to cover it completely. Repeat with all your cherries.
  6. Refrigerate these for 4 hours.
  7. Once your cherries are cold, melt chocolate and shortening slowly until smooth. Remove cherries from the fridge and dip them in the melted chocolate then return to the fridge until the chocolate hardens (this should take around 30 minutes).
  8. Pledge eternal devotion to Mamaw, and Sweet Iced Tea for sharing this life changing recipe with you.
  9. Enjoy!

 

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