Cherries, for some reason, inspire myth (when was the last time you heard a fairy tale about grapes or tangerines?). Of course, any food item that's been around so long -- reportedly there are several species of cherry pits in Stone Age digs in Switzerland -- is bound to show up in a few folk tales. Like the one about George Washington and his little hatchet. Or the one about cherries curing gout, arthritis, rheumatism and arteriosclerosis. (The cherry industry is said to be researching that one.)
Even cherries' own designated month -- February -- is based on )) the fanciful associations with Washington and St. Valentine, rather than the fruit's natural season (May-July). But cherries are available in some form all year, and from a nutritional standpoint, well worth eating: 1 cup of raw cherries has 90 calories and only 0.5 grams of fat and 3 milligrams of sodium. They're high in potassium and in vitamins C and A.
This recipe, from "Fresh Fruit Desserts," by Sheryl and Mel London (Prentice Hall, 1990, $22.95) can be made with either fresh or frozen pitted cherries. Pitting cherries can be tedious, the authors concede, but they suggest doing it in advance "preferably with a friend or lover." As for the clafouti, they introduce it this way: "This rustic, puffed sponge-like cross between a pancake and a souffle is of French origin, and the easiest fruit and egg combination to make."
Cherry clafouti with kirsch
1 1/2 pounds (about 4 cups) dark, sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted (see note)
4 tablespoons butter
2/3 cup flour, sifted
1/4 teaspoon salt
3 eggs, beaten lightly
1/2 cup sugar, or to taste
1 cup milk
2 tablespoons kirsch
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Melt 4 tablespoons butter in the bottom of a 10-inch quiche pan and reserve 2 tablespoons of it. Arrange the pitted cherries on the bottom of the buttered pan and set aside.
In a small bowl, mix the flour and salt together. Set aside. In a large bowl, beat the eggs with the sugar, then add the milk, kirsch, and vanilla and beat until well blended. Add the reserved melted butter and the flour and salt and beat again. Pour the batter slowly and evenly over the cherries so they are not dislodged. Bake for 5 minutes, reduce the heat to 350 degrees, and continue to bake for 45 to 50 minutes, or until the clafouti is firm, puffed and golden brown. Serve warm with a sprinkling of confectioners' sugar if you wish.
Note: To pit cherries, make a small slash in the cherry with the point of a sharp knife and lift out the pit or use a cherry pitter.