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The Treasured Tiny Stone Fruit

May 01, 2017 11:51PM ● By Lesley Stiles

The Treasured Tiny Stone Fruit

I know that non-Californian and especially non-Bay Area natives love to wax ecstatic about how our home has no seasons and how elsewhere they’ve walked five miles in below zero weather in the winter, and the humidity in the summer can kill ya, and we won’t even get into the amazing fall colors...blah blah. Anyway, I have been to a few places, and I disagree because spring in our area disproves any of that hooey.

The air takes on a velvety quality and blood starts racing in sluggish veins, quickening smiles as well as other parts of the body. Along with varying arrays of impossibly beautiful flower hues and tree varieties, we grow or partake in a dizzying amount of vegetables and fruits. Spring drops flavor bombs of cherries, apricots, asparagus, peas, fava beans, green garlic, and so many more that I’m excited just banging out the words on my keys.

With most crops available from other parts of the world year- round, it is fast becoming a lost pleasure to cling wildly against the tides. Sadly, many of the younger set have no idea what taste anticipation or seasonal eating even means. Cherries are the exception, mostly to the rule of endless availability. In Northern and Central California, cherries reign supreme. Difficult to mess with their season, they start to come on intensely in late April and early May and go until late June. About February the seed of an idea starts to play in the brain. Yes, our memory says, I remember those cherries; it seems they had a cup of juice in each one.

Every year farmers and their scientists come up with new exciting “breeds” of moneymaking love to tempt the general consumer of George Washington’s favorite fruit, selling more and more each year. Anticipation around cherry season pulls as strong as a Mavericks Tide on our sense of taste come springtime. Farmers’ markets abound with juice heavy temptations of America’s most beloved tiny stone fruit. Early, mid and late season varieties move in and set up shop, allowing shoppers to load more than digestion can generally handle into reusable bags. Bing cherries are pretty amazing: sweet, juicy and what you remember eating as a kid. Rainier’s are the pinkish white ones that are amazing in pies due to their cloyingly sweet insides with a tart lining just under the skin. Eaten out of hand from the farmers’ market to distraction, I suggest getting your fill before driving home.

After out of hand consumptions have been narcoticaly exhausted, brave souls may begin to pit. Pit enough for a crisp or pie or, better yet, creamy vanilla scented bread pudding or almond flavored French toast. Cherries are remarkable with savory delights and manage particularly well with fowl and honeyed balsamic. Mimicking George and trying to grow your own cherries does not always meet satisfactory levels of fruition, however. Cherry trees must be paired sexually opposing each other, much as humans, to reproduce. Same sex, celibate, and even self-pollinating trees, may disappoint.

Summer gardens should be in and going great guns at this point, but if you have been a slacker, don’t beat yourself up. Just get going and plant some food in your yard. 

Hiking is at peak season in the local hills, where greens and wild flowers beg to be fawned over after such lush rain gave them all new life. Get out and move it to lose it!

Crispy Romaine Salad w/ Roasted Duck and Cherry Balsamic Drizzle

1 head romaine lettuce, medium chopped

½ cup crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup chopped green onion

½ pound roasted duck, shredded

2/3 cup Bing cherries, washed, pitted and halved

¼ cup chopped, toasted local almonds

3 tablespoons good, fruity olive oil

3 tablespoons Balsamic drizzle (recipe follows)

Toss lettuce, feta, green onions, duck, and cherries together in a large bowl with olive oil and drizzle. Garnish with almonds. Serves 6. 

Cherry Balsamic Drizzle

3 cups pureed cherries

3 cups balsamic vinegar

2 cups red wine

½ cup honey

Pour wine and balsamic vinegar into a non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add cherries and reduce by one third. Add honey and simmer for 5 minutes.

To this base you can add rosemary, tarragon, orange peel or crushed cranberries as variations.

Use for a dressing on salad with olive oil or as a sauce to grilled chicken, roasted duck or vegetables. Store covered in fridge for up to 2 months.

Makes 2 cups.