Le Temps des Cerises

Succulent ripe cherries

Succulent ripe cherries

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.

Cherry production

Bowl of cherries

Bowl of cherries

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
4 eggs
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.

You might also like:

Figs and Fig Recipes
Seasonal Treats: Asparagus and Strawberries
Walnuts and Walnut Recipes

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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12 Responses to Le Temps des Cerises

  1. Pingback: Unwanted Visitors and SW France Weather May 2015 | Life on La Lune

  2. Anita says:

    The cherries seem particularly good this year. I made clafoutis de cerises once, but unfortunately it was inedible – it would have made a good rubber ball though! I haven’t had the courage to make it since!

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  3. Lovely piece, Vanessa. Thank you. I remember going to the cherryfest when on holiday near Céret (66) a few years ago. Thought it was earlier than this, but possibly not. From Céret, you can take a tiny smugglers road up towards the border with Spain, degenerating into a gravel track with a NO ENTRY sign, which we ignored, at the (totally unmanned) frontier. After that, a beautiful new highway takes you down into Spain. Clearly the French value leavers less highly than the Spanish appreciate arrivals!

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    • nessafrance says:

      I’ve never been to Ceret but I imagine the cherry blossom must be quite something earlier on in the spring. Lucky you didn’t end up down a precipice for ignoring the ‘No entry’ sign!

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  4. Jo lamb says:

    Just picked a colander full of cherries and there are so many more I can’t reach! Never nade clafoutis but I shall tomorrow. I love cherry and coconut, make some really easy buiscuits and they are gone in a flash! But also love almonds so may give that a try. Going to put some old cd’s in the cherry trees to deter the birds, the Italians tie the foil balloons to branches to frighten them.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Hope your clafoutis works out. The coconut doesn’t appeal to me but any ground nuts would do. People around here also use old CDs to frighten off the birds, but I think they get wise to it after a while.

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  5. gillianbrown1 says:

    Wish you’d posted this yesterday, Vanessa. Just seen the Fête des Cerises has been on all weekend in Ceret, Rousillon, not far from me, and I’ve missed it.
    Love cherries! Love clafouti!

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      Sorry, Jill! I’ve been trying to post this for several days… I did notice that Ceret had a fête des cerises but that doesn’t surprise me, since the French celebrate everything edible – and with good reason.

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  6. MarinaSofia says:

    One of my favourite fruits. And I like to make clafoutis with them too.

    Liked by 1 person

    • nessafrance says:

      What refinements do you add to yours? I find the almonds give an extra boost to the taste.

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      • MarinaSofia says:

        This will shock you but I am personally a huge fan of coconut with cherry, so I add some dessicated coconut to the mix. (And my husband can’t abide the taste of coconut, so it leaves more cake for the rest of us! Hee hee!)

        Liked by 1 person

      • nessafrance says:

        I’m with your husband, I’m afraid. I have never liked coconut, so you would definitely get my share! I think something nutty goes well with cherries, though.

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