Life is not a bowl, but a frosty glass of cherries, hot pink and straight from the garden or the farmers market. Last year I read about the health benefits of Montmorency cherries and that their juice is prized, which might be true of any sour cherry. A sleep aid, better than melatonin, arthritis cure, a panacea for multiple ailments. Enough hyperbole to make me wonder. But there’s no doubt about their basic nutritional value and their flavor.
I decided maybe I should get past cherry pie and try something with the nutritious juice of Montmorencies.
A cherry tree isn’t required. You can get pure, unsweetened sour cherry juice at most grocery stores these days, juice with nothing else added at all. Or, even better if you can get your hands on a couple of quarts of fresh or frozen local sour cherries.
On a month-long cleansing diet last winter, unsweetened cherry juice was a blessing at cocktail hour. I should say mocktail hour. I made a slightly sour, cherry juice libation nearly every evening before dinner with the cherry juice, a splash of apple juice, squeeze of lime, water and ice. Perfectly tart, in a sour cherry kind of way, it was and is a fine cocktail with or without the booze.
It’s summer now and we see the promise of a bumper crop of Montmorencies on our tree in the front yard. It’s all pink and golden with nearly ripe cherries. I have some of last year’s still in the freezer so I partially thawed them, made a simple syrup of sugar and water and went to town. Num. There are some delicious possibilities in a quart or two of sour cherries that go way beyond pie.
This process could be applied to any fresh or frozen fruit to make a frosty beverage or something dessert-like. Summertime in a glass that could be blueberries, raspberries, strawberries . . . but I invite you to consider sour cherries, the oddball choice. They’re available fresh any minute now and you can feel good about sipping a glassful.
This isn’t a recipe, but a description of an approach that can be adapted in all kinds of ways to make flavored ice, a slush, a summery cocktail, snow cone or a yogurt smoothie. Start with a half gallon of ripe or even overripe pitted, sour cherries. Frozen, partly frozen are fine, adding an even frostier tone to any of these beverages.
Make a simple syrup with equal parts sugar and water. I combined 1 C each sugar and water, brought it to a simmer, turned off the heat and let it cool. Use this syrup to sweeten sour cherries to suit your own taste.
By all means use agave nectar if you prefer – I wish I’d had some on hand – or honey. Whereas simple syrup can be added to cold fruit at any point, agave or honey need to be added to cherries and heated to a simmer in order to dissolve into the fruit. Cool and proceed with blending. Chill the blended mixture before proceeding with beverages.
Put all or some of the cherries in the blender, depending on the power of your blender. I have a steamroller on the kitchen counter – there’s no holding back with this machine. Add sugar syrup to taste and blend until smooth or relatively smooth. Add a bit of water if it’s too thick. Check for sweetness and add more simple syrup if needed. This is the thick base for some cherry joy.
I separated the blended pulp into batches and tried a few things:
* Just the blended cherries mixed with still or mineral water and crushed ice. Garnish with bruised (to release flavor) mint or lavender. This is a thick, frothy drink.
* Add 4 T heavy cream to 2 C blended, sweetened cherries, mix together in the blender. Add plenty of ice, a big handful or two, blend again and make a creamy, frosty slush. Same thing without the cream, or omit the ice.
*Mix the base with plain or vanilla yogurt, maybe some banana, for a sour cherry smoothie.
* Add 2 or 3 cups of ice to sweetened cherries and blend until slushy. Make a snow cone. I’ve been thinking about that one. What easily available paper would make a sturdy enough and chemical-free cone?
* With kids in mind, use glitzy sugar sprinkles on top, even chocolate ones, to elevate the glam factor.
* Mix the original blend with vodka or gin, tonic water and a squeeze of lime.
* Place all or some of the pulp in cheesecloth slung over a large bowl – or in a fine sieve – and allow the clear juice to drip through. Combine with a little fizzy or tonic water, simple syrup to taste, ice and/or lime juice and sip as is; or, add spirits of your choice.
* Simmer and reduce the clear, sweetened cherry juice until it’s a bit syrupy and drizzle it over ice cream.
See, I knew I would find a way to interfere with the uber-healthy character of this cherry. Might as well make a pie.
Cheers to Cherries.