• Simple Garden Recipes: Maraschino Cherries And Sweet Refrigerator Pickles

    Homemade maraschino cherries.

    Sweet refrigerator pickles.

    The bounty of summer often comes with a vexing question that basically boils down to, “what am I supposed to do with all of this stuff?!?” Wether you garden, join a CSA, shop the farmers market or simply succumb to the temptations of a roadside fruit stand, when we get summer fruits and veggies we tend to get a lot of them. All at once.  And not all produce stays fresh for very long. Abundance can have a (very slight) downside.

    Now possibly the best answer to this “challenge” is to share with friends, assuming they aren’t already overwhelmed with their own produce. But when generosity fails, preservation is the next step. Now if you want to get serious about preservation, we suggest you visit Wifemeetslife for an intro to canning- Alison has some great posts. And if you want to add some booze into the mix, then we suggest a visit to Boozed + Infused, where Alicia makes incredible fruit-based infusions.

    We can’t keep up with Alison and Alicia (although we are trying) but we do often use some short-term preservation techniques to extend our produce. For our cherries we make quick “maraschino” cherries and for cucumbers we make refrigerator pickles. Both are easy to make and extend the life of our produce by a few weeks. Oh, and both taste great.

    Just cherries and Maraschino liqueur.

    Just a quick simmer, then jar and chill for two days.

    As for the maraschino cherries, we take our end-of season cherries, lightly cook them in maraschino liqueur and then pop them in the fridge and let them macerate for two days and then the are ready and will last for a few weeks. While sour cherries may be the ideal, we use Bings or Vans and they are very tasty. Contrary to the bright pink, overly sweet store-bought maraschinos, home-made maraschino cherries are just a touch sweet with a bit of tartness and some crunch. The liqueur adds some lovely nutty flavors to the cherries. And they are not particularly boozy. We put the cherries in cocktails, on top of ice cream, between layers of cakes (yum) and simply eat them out of hand. Good stuff and a good excuse to buy one more basket of cherries (and add some maraschino liqueur to your bar).

    Cucumbers, onion, vinegar, sugar, salt and spices. Simple.

    As for the sweet refrigerator pickles, we love our cucumbers fresh, or in quick pickles, but we like this recipe so much it is one of the main reasons we grow cukes and buy a lot at the farmers market. Making these pickles is a snap. Simply cut up some pickling cucumbers (Kirbys are good here) and a bit of onion and then quickly/lightly cook in a solution of brown sugar, vinegar, salt and spices. Let the mixture cool and then put it in the fridge, the pickles will keep for about 10 days, but they won’t last that long. The pickles are sharp, sweet and crunchy with just a touch of spice. We eat them out of hand but also put them on sandwiches or serve them with burgers and hot dogs at cookouts. We also chop the pickles up into a quick relish- so good. And our kids love them, so it is a good way to get a few more veggies in their diet. Continue reading

  • Cherry And Chocolate Chip Muffins

    Cherry and Chocolate Chip Muffins

    Tired of cherries yet? Well, we thought we would be, but they are so good (and plentiful) this year that we can’t seem to get enough. But as our season is ending, we are doing as much as we can with our cherries. We made cocktails, cherry-based salads and clafoutis for dessert, so now Carolyn made some “muffins” for breakfast. Of course, as we noted from some earlier recipes, Carolyn’s muffins often seem closer to cupcakes. But the boys and I aren’t complaining.

    OK, so now what do we do with all of these?

    And these muffins are a very good use of cherries. Cherries go well with chocolate and are firm enough to hold their shape in a muffin (or cake). And part of the cool thing about this recipe is its flexibility. We used sweet Bing cherries, so Carolyn used bittersweet chocolate chips, but if you have less sweet or (if you get lucky) sour cherries then you can add regular chocolate or even white chocolate chips to balance the fruit. And these muffins are a delicious balance of sweet, nutty and fruity flavors- and the chocolate adds great depth. You can eat a bunch of these and never tire of the taste.

    Cream butter and sugar.

    Add in the eggs, then flour.

    Cherries and chocolate. Hard to go wrong here.

    Add cherries and chocolate to the batter.

    The other point of flex in the recipe is the flour. Carolyn adds white whole wheat flour  to the batter. We think it gives a nuttier flavor that plays very well with most fruit-driven recipes. In case you are curious, white whole wheat flour is simply milled from hard white spring wheat, rather than traditional red wheat. It is whole wheat flour, but is lighter in color and flavor and acts more like AP flour. But if you prefer all-purpose flour, the recipe will still work with 100% AP flour.

    Scoop batter in muffin cups and bake.

    Let’s the muffins cool…if you can wait that long. Continue reading

  • Cherry Clafoutis

    Cherry clafoutis.

    Nothing makes us happier than growing, cooking, eating and sharing our own food. But there is a slight tyranny to the seasons. If you have cherries, you are cooking with cherries, period. And our Bing cherries are at their peak, so we picked them all. One small tree gave us four large bowls of cherries…all at once. Happily, cherries lend themselves to all sorts of dishes and cocktails (and we do seem to like eating and drinking). So this week you may see cherries in all sorts of dishes. But for now, let’s start with a classic cherry dessert, clafoutis.

    Fresh Bing cherries form our orchard.

    Clafoutis is a French dessert that combines cherries baked in a light batter, often with some added almond flavor. Think of the batter as “flan-meets-pancake” and you can get an idea of the light, yet rich, texture that rightfully lets the cherries star in the dish. Originally clafoutis featured sour or black cherries with the pits still in. Supposedly the pits add extra almond-like flavor, but as we have Bing cherries and like our teeth, we put pitted Bing cherries and almond extract in our clafoutis. You can also use this basic recipe with other stone fruits or berries, but if you want to be technical it would then be a flaugnarde, but feel free to call it a clafoutis- we won’t tell anyone.

    A cherry-pitter is a useful tool if you like cherries as much as we do.

    As for the recipe, clafoutis is a classic dish and there are many recipes out there. We chose to adapt an Alice Waters recipe that adds a few extra steps, but also adds extra flavor. In this case we season and pre-bake the cherries before we add them to the clafoutis. The extra cooking improves the flavor and texture of the cherries, but also leaves behind the base of a syrup you can reduce and drizzle on top of the clafoutis at service. Good stuff. We also prefer to cook clafoutis (and many desserts) in individual ramekins, we think it looks good and makes leftovers easier to handle, but a large baking dish works for this recipe as well.

    Season the cherries for pre-baking.

    Extra cooking for more flavor and better texture- plus you get cherry juice for a sauce.

    Place a layer of cherries in the ramekins or baking dish.

    Assembling the clafoutis is a pretty easy affair. Pre-cook the cherries, save the syrup, butter your baking dish(es), place the fruit in the dishes, make and add the batter and bake. The batter is the only part of the recipe that requires some extra effort, you need to whip egg whites and then fold them into the batter for the right texture. The clafoutis bakes for about 20 minutes at 375 degrees. While the clafoutis bakes, reduce your cherry syrup for a tasty and pretty sauce. When the clafoutis is done, add the sauce, dust with powdered sugar and serve.

    Make the batter.

    Pour batter over the cherries.

    Bake until browned and puffed. Continue reading

  • Weekly Cocktail #16: The Caipirinha / Cherry-Lime Caipirinha

    Cherry-lime caipirinha.

    Our friend Alicia over at Boozed + Infused (a great blog on homemade booze) recently posted on the concept of “gartending”. As you might expect, gartending means you are making cocktails with ingredients from your garden. So now that it has a name, we can say that we have been happily gartending for some time. One reason we like cocktails as much as we do is that we can quickly enjoy the fruit and herbs from the garden in drinks. It is always fun to enjoy the fruits of your labor, and if you get to add a bit of booze…so much the better.

    As we noted earlier this week, we are happily harvesting cherries. We are eating them out of hand, mostly, and will be baking this weekend, but once we picked them our thoughts went to cocktails. And we made a cherry-lime caipirinha. And it was good. Very good. Good enough that we decided to post the recipe.

    Cherry-lime caipirinha and ingredients.

    The caipirinha is the national drink of Brazil. It is a simple, but delightful, combination of cachaca, limes and sugar. You simply muddle about 1/2 a lime with a few teaspoons of sugar to get the juice and oils from the limes and then add cachaca and ice. While the process is simple, you get a very tasty, complex cocktail that is perfect for summer. And keeping in the spirit of Brazil, there are few rules with the Caipirinha. It is quite acceptable to add in or change the fruit or even the base spirit and still call the drink a caipirinha. And since we had cherries and we like them with limes, the cherry-lime caipirinha was not far behind.

    If you are unfamiliar with cachaca, it is basically “Brazilian rum” but it is made from sugar cane juice rather than molasses (rum agricole, made from cane syrup is somewhere between cachaca and rum). Cachaca has an overt sugar cane flavor with some heat from the alcohol and what most would call “musty” and grassy notes. That may not sound all that good, but it works well in cocktails, particularly with fruit-driven recipes. We enjoy cachaca in cocktails like the Rose Pearl, but it does mostly end up in caipirinhas during the summer.

    As for the caipirinha, the name itself loosely translates to “country-bumpkin” or “hillbilly”. And if you have a few of these your behavior certainly might “deteriorate” somewhat. The caipirinha is a great drink, the only real downside is that it is mostly booze, but goes down very, very easy. Sometimes you want to enjoy a caipirinha but not act like one, if you know what we mean…;-) Consider yourself warned and happy Friday!

    The Caipirinha / Cherry-Lime Caipirinha

    Ingredients:

    • 1/2 large lime, cut into quarters
    • 4 cherries, pitted and cut in half (optional)
    • 2 teaspoons, or more, granulated sugar
    • 2 or 3 oz. cachaca
    • Ice

    Assemble:

    1. Muddle the fruit and sugar in a cocktail glass. Add the cachaca and stir. Pour the mixture into a lowball glass and add a lot of ice. Mix and serve.
  • Orchard Update: The Cherry Harvest, Day #1

    Van cherries before harvest.

    Well after a longer wait than we expected, the cherry harvest is here! We are very, very excited, as this is the first real cherry harvest from our orchard. We netted the trees a few weeks ago and the extra work paid off. While the ants got a few of the cherries, the birds, wood rats and squirrels were kept at bay.

    Harvesting cherries is still a low-tech affair…

    Most of this day’s harvest was from the Van and Black Tartarian grafted tree. The cherries are mostly Vans. We planted the Van / Tartarian tree to pollinate the Bing cherry tree, but the bonus is another crop of cherries. The Vans look like Bings, but are smaller with slightly lighter color skin and flesh. They are sweet, but not too sweet, with a pleasant crunch.  We had a smaller crop of the Black Tartarians and they are really, really good. The Tartarians, not surprisingly, have deep purple color and flesh. The cherries are very sweet and incredibly juicy. The Tartarians are a pleasant surprise, the only bummer is that few made it out of the orchard- they were enjoyed straight from the tree. We will aim for more next year (perhaps another tree).

    Day 1: Vans, Bings and Black Tartarians.

    We also started on the Bing tree, which is dense with fruit on almost every branch. The cherries are ripening somewhat unevenly, so we will work the tree over the next few days. The Bings are a delight. There is a reason they are the most popular fresh cherry. They are big and sweet and one of the closest things to “natural” candy you can get. The kids think they are better than candy, and that says a lot. We had some off-season rain and concerns that it would cause the Bings to crack, but luckily all the fruit is in great shape. We will have fun picking the cherries for the next few days.

    Ready to eat. The Vans have the lighter color.

    While researching how to cultivate our Bings we ran across an interesting piece of history worth sharing. From Wikipedia:

    The cultivar was created as a crossbred graft from the Republican cherry in 1875 by Oregon horticulturist Seth Lewelling and hisManchurian Chinese foreman Ah Bing, for whom the cultivar is named.

    Ah Bing was reportedly born in China and immigrated to the U.S. in about 1855. He worked as a foreman in the Lewelling family fruit orchards in Milwaukie for about 35 years, supervising other workers and caring for trees. He went back to China in 1889 for a visit. Due to the restrictions of the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 he never returned to the United States. Sources disagree as to whether Ah Bing was responsible for developing the cultivar, or whether it was developed by Lewelling and named in Bing’s honor due to his long service as orchard foreman.

    It seems a little bittersweet to us that Ah Bing was not allowed to return to the US. And regardless of who crossbred the cherry, it gives us a smile that Ah Bing’s work in the orchard survives and is enjoyed every summer.

    Eat out of hand, or make a cocktail. Cherry-lime Caipirinha, pretty good.

    Once we got the cherries in the house, they got a quick clean and rinse. We laid them out on the counter and ate quite a few. The kids enjoyed them and I even made a cherry-lime Caipirinha. Yum. For the next few days we will be enjoying the cherries in baked goods, perhaps ice cream, drinks and even a savory dish or two. Recipes soon.

  • Heavy Branches and the Lonely Peach

    Bing cherries, we will harvest later this week.

    We planted our stone fruit orchard nearly 5 years ago. And while there have been a few successes, this is the first year we can say the trees are “heavy” with fruit. The peaches and nectarines are in process, but the Bing cherries are truly on the cusp. We eat them daily, but the big harvest will come later this week. The limbs on the Bing cherry tree are bending under the weight of the fruit. Amazingly, this same tree yielded just a few tiny, tepid berries last year but will give us baskets of cherries this year. A small reminder that patience and effort are sometimes rewarded.

    Cherry branch bending under the weight of the fruit. This is good.

    We are pleasantly surprised by the density of the cherries.

    And sometimes there are pleasant surprises. The hybrid Van and Black Tartarian cherry tree was mostly planted to  pollinate the Bing. But, as we noted last week, this tree is also bearing fruit. The Vans are tasty and the Tartarians are just coming in. We look forward to tasting all three of the cherries just off the tree.

    Netting the tress to protect the fruit in the orchard.

    On a more sober note, we took the plunge and netted the trees in the orchard. We needed help to do this, but as most of the trees have real fruit, now is the time. The orchard is less picturesque, but is hopefully protected from some of the nighttime raids of earlier years. We’ve written about our more…ummm, “active” protection of the garden and orchard from varmints, so let’s hope the passive systems work as well.

    A flash of purple amidst the green.

    Otherwise, the apple and pear trees outside of the orchard are looking great. The blossoms of spring are now the small fruits of the tree. These are older trees that bear fruit every year. We deal with leaf curl and the occasional pest, but we rarely worry about these trees. They are in their prime. Our younger Macintosh apple is also looking good and we expect a decent crop this year.

    Pears on an older tree. Lots of fruit, but months from being ready. Continue reading