The title (‘Cherry Time’) is that of a very famous French song written in 1866 and interpreted much later by Yves Montand. With the addition of some verses, it became one of the anthems of the revolutionary Paris Commune in 1871, a symbol of the better times that would follow. However, I’ll take it in its more prosaic and literal sense and focus on the fruit.
‘Il est bien court le temps des cerises’ (it’s very short, the cherry time) the song goes. And indeed it is. Local cherries appeared down here in the markets a couple of weeks ago. Within another fortnight, they will be all but finished. But this makes them more of a seasonal treat, on which we gorge ourselves every year. The explosion of slightly tart juice on the tongue as you bite into the ripe fruit is highly addictive.
We don’t have a cherry tree. I keep intending to plant one, but I am deterred by our friends telling us either that the birds got there first or that their trees are suffering from some blight. We rely instead on what we find in the market.
The southwest is not a big producer of cherries. The main areas are eastern France from Alsace and Lorraine all the way down to Provence, where they are known as ‘diamants rouges’ (red diamonds). France is apparently Europe’s fourth largest cherry producer, at 60,000 to 80,000 tonnes per year.
The season varies more or less depending on where you live. It’s slightly earlier down in Provence than it is over here. In A Year in Provence, Peter Mayle describes the start of the cherry picking season in early May.
Nonetheless, while staying with friends in Paris one mid-April in pre-Euro days, they took us to Fauchon and Hédiard, those ruinously expensive Epicurean shrines in la place de la Madeleine. There we observed – but didn’t buy – early cherries from Provence at getting on for 300 FF a kilo (around 46 euros). Grown under glass? Surely not. But then how could they be so early? Answers below, please.
How are they used? The sweeter varieties, guignes and bigarreaux, are used for compotes, cherry juice or eating raw. The more acid types, griottes and amarelles, are only used in cooking – jams, tarts, etc. – or for distilling into alcohol, such as kirsch.
Clafoutis de cerises
This is the classic recipe, in which the fruit is covered with batter and then baked, when the fruit takes on a lovely jammy consistency.
500 g cherries
100 g flour
100 g caster sugar
30 cl milk
1 vanilla pod
30 g butter
- Preheat the oven to 180° C.
- Stone the cherries and spread them in a deep-ish cake tin with a removable base.
- Break eggs into a bowl and whisk, adding the flour and sugar a little at a time.
- Add the milk into which you have scraped the seeds from the vanilla pod.
- Pour the mixture over the cherries and bake in the oven for 30 minutes. Allow to cool a little and then unmould. Serve warm (best) or cold.
- For extra flavour you can also add a scant tbsp. of ground almonds to the mixture, but reduce the flour.
- Serves 4.
A word of warning. Don’t eat too many raw cherries at once. They are well known for stimulating the intestinal function. Enough said.
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