Summer nostalgia

And so it ends. The amazing warm streak we had last week is officially finished. The temperature dropped by about 25 degrees in the span of three days. It is fall, which means that winter is right around the corner. While fall offers lots of delicious possibilities (I’m already dreaming of Thanksgiving dinner and mentally planning my menu), I’ll definitely miss the quintessential summerness of barbecues, homegrown fruit and vegetables and eating outside.

One of the best things about my new house (and one of the main selling points, for me anyway), is our cherry tree. I’ve never been a fan of cherries. Cherry pie, okay. Cherry cobbler, sure. I never understood, however, when my French friends and colleagues would come to work with a paper bag full of cherries from the market, and revel in the fact that it was finally the season for them. I’d take one or two when offered, and politely eat them while wondering what all the fuss was about. They were good, yes. But nothing compared to a ripe melon, a tender fragrant pear, or a juicy, sweet orange.

When I found out that the house I’d fallen in love with had a cherry tree, I was instantly excited, despite the fact that it wasn’t one of my favorite fruits. After years of living in the city, I needed a little country flavor. Fruit trees are pretty much a sure bet, and don’t require any work whatsoever. I had no idea if my garden would yield anything worth eating, but I knew that this tree would provide me with something homegrown, unbelievably fresh and that somehow, it would taste better than anything that I could buy in a store.

When the snow finally melted and buds started appearing on our tree I was ecstatic. I eagerly monitored its progress, and compared it to the others in our neighborhood. As if it knew that I was impatient, our tree seemed to be an overachiever. We had leaves before the others, and then the fruit came. Loads and loads of bright red cherries had appeared where only weeks before there were dead brown bits, and then leaves, and then flowers.

Soon, we were overwhelmed with cherries. My daily ritual consisted in picking whatever was ripe, but also in scanning the ground and picking up each and every fallen cherry (this lasted at least two weeks!), discarding those that were half eaten or bruised, and preciously saving those that were good to eat. I ate them every day, for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, took them to work, shared them with my colleagues. For the first time I understood why they were so special, and felt an odd sense of pride when those I shared them with raved about their incredible flavor.

As the days wore on, I realized that I hadn’t yet reached true cherry nirvana. The cherries that I’d been eating for days weren’t even fully ripe yet. This is when I discovered the black cherry. Literally so dark that there was no trace of red left, they were so ripe that they went bad in a few hours. I took a chair out into my yard and scoured the branches for that one perfect, wine-colored cherry, then raced inside to wash it and ingest it straight away.

We had a great crop, and while I was eating dozens of cherries each day, after a bit I wasn’t quite sure what to do with them. I alone could not eat a days worth of fresh cherries, and J isn’t really a fan. So, I made cherrie sauce. Once it was cooked, it looked like the canned stuff that we used to use in pies, right down to the syrupy texture. Taste-wise, however, it was in a whole other league. I didn’t write down the recipe that I made up that day months ago, but I think I can recreate it for you here, more or less.

Fresh cherry sauce with mint and cinnamon

Ingredients:
Cherries (the fresher the better!)
2-3 T of sugar (I used a bit of brown, too)
A few fresh mint leaves
1 T of cinnamon
2 T water

Remove the pits from your cherries and toss the flesh into a small sauce pan, filled with the 2T of water, and on low heat. Add them as you go, and once they’re all in, add the sugar and stir well. Add the cinnamon. Cook the mixture for about 15 minutes, stirring often, until the cherries are cooked (they’ll become much darker) and the liquid is syrupy. Add in the fresh mint, and cook an additional 2-3 minutes. Stores well in the fridge for several days, and could probably be frozen.

Serve over ice cream, with angel food cake, or, follow in my footsteps and pour over some freshly grilled pineapple (I did my on the BBQ by mixing large pieces of my fresh pineapple with a bit of butter and a sprinkling of cane sugar, then threw them on the grill for about 2-3 minutes per side, depending on how hot the grill is, until just caramelized. Don’t hesitate to add some more sugar as they’re cooking)!

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