Tuesday, June 2, 2009

A Cherry Affair

Lazy summer mornings up north found us languidly falling out of bed. Blearily, we drew towards our cereal of choice, those individual-sized boxes arrayed neatly on the roughly-hewn kitchen counter. My brother, K, invariably picked the most sugary and colorful of the bunch -Lucky Charms or Fruit Loops while my sister and I tended towards the restrainedly sweet Raisin Bran. We sleepily gathered around the clumsy-looking dining table and slowly woke up as we ate breakfast together with our parents. Thus began our days in the rented cabin in the woods, just outside Traverse City. After breakfast, the heat had already set in and we walked the several feet to the lake's edge and dipped our feet in the icy-cold water. The surface was bejeweled with dancing glints of light and caused me to squint as I deposited my beach towel and books on the sand. We swam and shivered, skipped stones, and read books, whiling away the mornings.

The afternoons, we wandered into town, walking the length of the store-lined streets with other summer vacationers, inhaling the enticing scents coming from the ubiquitous fudge shops nearby. But the raison d'etre (mine, in any case) of these strolls were the cherries. Tart Michigan cherries, grown in this region and the adjacent Leelanau Peninsula, were then at their peak season, plump and eminently delectable with anything that you chose to pair them with: pies, ice cream, and studded in those melt-in-your-mouth fudge. With abandon, we ate
these cherries -in their myriad forms- and invariably took home the locally-made American Spoon cherry jam.

Over twenty years later, I find myself -now with E- surrounded by cherry orchards in late summer, but now across the lake, in Wisconsin's Door County. With cherry blossoms now faded, heralding the big cherry harvest in mid-July, I could not help carrying home the first batch of sweet cherries I espied this season at our local grocery.

Strewn in profusion in an eggy batter for a cherry clafoutis - a pancake-like concoction- they emitted their natural sweetness. As the clafoutis baked in the oven, the smell of cherries gradually filled our kitchen with their pleasing scent. E and I sat down to our tea with a pot of the Hongqing Special and our slices of the cherry clafoutis. A happy pairing this was of a tea -with strong floral notes- and a barely sweet cherry-laden affair that doubled as my breakfast the next day.

Cherry Clafoutis
(adapted from Julia Child's recipe)
1 1/2 lbs tart or sweet cherries (pitted)
3 eggs
1/4 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/2 -3/4 cup sifted all-purpose flour (use 3/4 cup if you prefer the texture of your clafoutis to be more pancake-like and less custardy)
pinch of salt
pat of butter
Preheat oven to 350 F
Butter the bottom and sides of a deep pie dish.
Place berries over the bottom of dish.
In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until the mixture is pale yellow. Add milk, vanilla, and salt to mixture and sift in flour. Continue to whisk until batter is free of clumpy flour. Pour mixture over berries.
Bake on center rack for 45 minutes, rotating once. It is done when the clafoutis puffs up.
Cool slightly before serving. Serves 6.

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