Every holiday needs a food associated with it, and the Fourth of July is no exception. I asked several people what came to mind when I mentioned Independence Day, and many of them said, "hot dogs."
Well, OK, I guess, but a few had a different -- and much better -- idea. They recommend making cherries the official July 4 treat.
After all, you can eat hot dogs any time of year, if you must, but the time for cherries is right now. And the fruit has a patriotic association through George Washington and his hatchet.
The best cherries are fully ripe and firm to the point of crispness in texture. They will keep fairly well for a few days if left unwashed in a closed paper bag in the crisper section of the refrigerator.
From a nutritional standpoint, fresh cherries are an excellent addition to the diet. A 5-ounce serving (a good handful) adds a moderate 90 calories, and, like most fruits, cherries are a good source of vitamin C, minerals and fiber.
They are no trouble to serve; in fact, the vast majority of cherries sold fresh end up consumed just as they are, making them a perfect addition to a picnic basket.
There are, however, myriad cherry recipes that are worth trying, if you can keep your hands off them beforehand.
Note on pitting cherries: Although you can simply squeeze out the pits, the job is much easier and less messy if you invest in a cherry pitter. These resemble the hand tools used to punch holes in paper and are available at most kitchen equipment dealers.
:. We begin our recipes with a grand classic:
Makes 8 servings.
pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
1 cup sugar (or to taste)
2 to 3 tablespoons cornstarch
flavoring options (see variations)
5 cups pitted cherries
1 tablespoon butter or margarine
egg glaze (optional -- recipe follows)
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line 9-inch pie plate with dough.
Mix sugar, cornstarch and salt. Toss with cherries. Fill pie shell with fruit, dot with butter and top with an upper crust. Seal and flute edge. Cherry pie often is given a lattice crust on top. If a smooth top crust is used rather than a lattice crust, poke holes in the top crust with a fork.
Paint the crust with egg glaze. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes, until fruit is bubbly and crust is brown. Serve warm or at room temperature. Cherry pie may be accompanied by sweetened whipped cream or vanilla ice cream.
Variations: Any of these may be mixed into the cherries when they're tossed with the sugar mixture: 3 or 4 drops of almond extract, a sprinkling of cinnamon or a sprinkling of ginger.
Cherry-apple pie: Replace up to half of the cherries with pared, cored and sliced Granny Smith or other cooking apples.
Cherry-rhubarb pie: Replace up to half the cherries with trimmed, sliced rhubarb; add additional sugar to taste.
Egg glaze: Beat 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water.
Here's an interesting pie, attributed to Zenda Cabral of Holladay, Utah, one of the states in the Northwest growers' group. The dish is taken from "American Pie Celebration," a booklet published by Procter & Gamble.
The recipe calls for sour cherries, available frozen. You can substitute 5 cups of pitted fresh sweet cherries, cutting sugar to 2/3 cup. You need more volume of fresh cherries, because they will cook down more.
Utah's best cherry pie
Makes 8 servings.
1 cup sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup peach nectar (available canned)
1/3 cup Chambord liqueur (optional -- see note)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
pastry for a 2-crust 9-inch pie
3 1/2 cups thawed frozen dry-pack pitted red tart cherries, well drained
egg glaze (see preceding recipe)
Combine sugar, cornstarch, cinnamon and salt in medium saucepan. Stir in nectar and liqueur. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and clear. Add butter, stirring until melted. Cool.
Heat oven to 425 degrees. Line 9-inch pie pan with pastry. Add cherries to nectar mixture. Pour into crust. Top with upper crust, which may be lattice-style (if top crust is solid, poke holes in it with a fork), and bake about 40 minutes. Cool until slightly warm or room temperature.
Note: Chambord is a sweet, raspberry-flavored liqueur. You could substitute an equal amount of sieved raspberry jam. Or try cassis syrup or black currant jelly.
Fresh cherries make an interesting salsa or chutney.
Makes 3/4 cup.
1 cup pitted cherries
2 tablespoons fresh chopped basil
1 tablespoon finely chopped green peppers
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon Worcestershire sauce
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
salt to taste
red pepper sauce to taste
In a food processor, or with a knife, chop cherries. Combine with remaining ingredients. Refrigerate at least 1 hour.
This salsa goes well with chicken, pork or boiled fish. It is best served when recently made; the flavors dilute with storage.
Makes 2 1/2 pints.
4 cups cherries, pitted
HTC 4 cups fresh peaches, peeled, pitted and sliced
2 1/2 cups brown sugar
2 cups cider vinegar
1 medium lemon, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup raisins
1/2 cup chopped onion
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper
Combine all ingredients. Bring to a boil in large saucepan with heavy bottom. Simmer about 2 hours, until mixture thickens, stirring frequently. Ladle into hot canning jars to within 1/4 inch of tops. Seal according to jar maker's instructions.
Place jars in rack in large pot of boiling water with water 2 inches above jar tops. Boil 15 minutes. Cool on racks. After 12 hours, test for proper seal.
Alternatively, prepared chutney may be kept covered in the refrigerator for a week or two.
This chutney may be served with poultry or pork.
To preserve cherries for later in the year, you have these choices:
Freezing: Wash cherries, drain well and place as they are in plastic bags; seal. At 0 degrees Fahrenheit, they will keep up to a year. If you like, you can pit them in advance. To use, thaw only partly.
Canning: Wash and stem cherries; pit, if you like. Prepare a sugar syrup by simmering 1 part sugar to 3 parts water until dissolved. Place cherries in canning jars and cover with syrup to within 1/2 inch of top. Seal according to jar maker's instructions. Place on rack in large pot of boiling water; cover jars to a depth of 2 inches. Process 20 minutes for pints, 30 minutes for quarts.
Dehydrating: Regular and convection ovens that allow the proper temperature may be used instead of specially made dehydrators. However, you will need trays that permit air circulation. Wash and stem cherries. Pit and cut in half. Place skin side down on dryer trays. Dry at 135 degrees for 12 to 15 hours. When ready, the cherries will be leathery and sticky. Store in plastic bags in a cool, dry place.
Dried cherries may be used like raisins in recipes such as the next one.
Dried cherry muffins
Makes 12 muffins
1 cup sifted all-purpose flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup honey
1 cup milk
1/4 cup oil
Heat oven to 400 F. Grease muffin tin for 12 muffins. Mix together flours, baking powder and salt. Add dried cherries and toss until the cherries are well coated.
Separately, beat honey, egg, milk and oil until well blended. Pour into flour mixture and stir until just blended. Do not overmix. Divide batter among muffin tins. Bake 25 minutes.
The following recipe may add a few fireworks to a dinner.
Makes 4 to 6 servings.
4 cups pitted fresh cherries
4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
2 tablespoons butter
2 to 3 tablespoons brandy
vanilla ice cream
Combine cherries and sugar. Melt butter in large frying pan. When hot, add cherries and saute gently until fruit is glazed and syrup forms in pan. Add brandy, and standing well back, ignite alcohol fumes that arise from pan. Be very careful when you do this so that you do not get burned.
Shake pan to encourage alcohol to burn. As flames begin to die back, spoon the fruit and its juices over scoops of ice cream.
Variations: You can use the same technique with cut up plums, peaches or apricots. Apple, pear and pineapple chunks also work well. The fruit may also be spooned over crepes.
Safety note: Do not use an excessive amount of alcohol or you may get too high a flame-up.