Friday, July 15, 2011

pickled cherries (times two)

i have never been a cherry person.
growing up, while all the other
kids were reaching for cherry
ice pops,
i held back because i always
knew the sour apple or grape
that i was hoping for was not
in danger of disappearing.

(oddly enough,
i had a conversation with my
sister this week about her
similar dislike of cherry starbursts.)

it wasn't until i was older
that i really understood that cherries -
fleetingly available, expensive, messy to eat cherries -
are lovely and fruity and offer the
very best of summer.
i hold true to my original belief -
i'm still not one for cherry flavored things.
but, apparently, i kind of love cherries.

last week, i, as many people i know,
came into a huge lot of cherries. i was torn
between eating them immediately or saving
and playing. ultimately, thanks to my work
schedule, i opted for the latter.

after a brief conversation with larry,
he asked if cherries could be pickled.
magic words. i recently told someone that
if i don't know what to do with a vegetable
lately, i pickle it or pesto it. i was not feeling
cherry pesto, and i was totally into making
the already tart cherries, ultra tangy.
star anise
i researched recipes and decided on something
i'm often guilty of - talking myself into making
something that i have a very good reason not to
make. (it requires a skill i don't think i can handle,
i can't find something that is vital to the recipe, but
make it anyway, or the worst
- and the culprit this time - convincing
myself that an ingredient i don't care for will be
delicious when utilized in this particular capacity.)

i haven't had five spice powder for years.
the last time i tasted it,
the mixture had been used to jazz up a sauce
for chicken. i wasn't crazy about. it was the star anise.
i'm just not a licorice person - hence my major issue
with fennel, anise and several other things.

but since then, i've sampled it in other dishes that
had not been so bad: larry's pho from mo pho,
a seafood dish on vacation, a dessert that's kind
of foggy in my memory.

when i saw a recipe that involved star anise,
i remembered the richness of the pho and i
decided to take a chance.
pickling the cherries was easy. larry poked
holes in their flesh as i mixed together the
brine of cinnamon sticks, star anise, black
peppercorns, red wine vinegar and brown sugar.
as it boiled, the house smelled delicious.
i poured the mixture over the cherries and let
them sit. an hour later, before leaving for
the evening, i sampled one. it reminded me of
something. when we returned home, i had a second
and it hit me: it tasted like medicine. and now
i had a whole big batch of medicinal cherries.
cherries, pickling
as i tried to go to sleep that night, my mind
wandered back and forth: why can't i sleep?
why did i think the star anise was a good idea?
why didn't i just go with a flavor profile
that i knew i liked? wasn't pickling cherries
risky enough? i will never be able to wake
up in the morning. i should have made them spicy!

the next night, i surveyed the chiles at the market.
i was not feeling jalapenos or serranos - and if i
had been, i have a stockpile in a pot on our deck (yay
for keeping something alive!) - nor, was i into
the other options. as i placed the habanero
into a bag, i was pretty sure i was crazy and
seriously sadistic when it came to these cherries.
white wine vinegar, habanero, cinnamon stick, kosher salt, palm sugar
at home, i tossed together the habanero, now
halved, cinnamon sticks, white
wine vinegar, palm sugar, left over
from the sriracha, and salt. i boiled the mixture
together and poked the cherries
(smarter this time - i used only a portion of my
remaining quantity). this time i notice that
when you poke holes in the cherries,
they make a mess. when the mixture
had boiled for a couple minutes and cooled
slightly, i poured it on top of the fruits
and while i was scared of the spice, i already
knew this batch was a winner.
cherry splatters
the other ones? they're ok.
in fact, i can see how someone who
is not me would really enjoy them.
but, the spicy cherries? they're the ones
i regret not making more of - and sadly,
that's now what's on my mind late at night
when i really should be asleep.
cooling down
pickled cherries (times two)
i'm including both recipes because i know that just because the first version is not my favorite, it doesn't mean it can't be yours. in both recipes, i poked the cherries about four times with a fork, a trick i learned from the internet. this makes it easier for the brine to infiltrate the cherries and helps the cherries to release their own juices into the brine.

star anise, black peppercorn and brown sugar pickled cherries
adapted from
i played around a lot with this recipe, changing the peppercorns, opting for brown sugar (and less of it) and eliminating the bay leaf and the fennel seeds, just to name a few. i also halved the amount of cherries, used two-thirds of the vinegar and did not reduce the brine.

2 cups red wine vinegar
1/2 cup, plus 2 tablespoons granulated brown sugar
3 cinnamon sticks or 1 large cinnamon stick, broken into 3 pieces
2 pieces star anise
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 1/4 pounds cherries

in small saucepot, combine vinegar, brown sugar, cinnamon sticks, star anise and kosher salt. rub the peppercorns between your hands as you add the to the pot. over high heat, bring to a boil; reduce heat and let simmer 5 minutes. remove from heat; let cool 10 minutes.

meanwhile, using fork, poke cherries 4 times. place in bowl. pour slightly cooled brine mixture over cherries, pressing on cherries to make sure they're all under the brine. let sit at room temperature 2 hours. cover bowl tightly or transfer to a cleaned glass jar with lids. chill in fridge.

habanero, cinnamon and palm sugar pickled cherries
i will not lie - these are spicy. but, they were nowhere near as spicy as i feared they would be when i opted to use the habanero. i used one very long cinnamon stick, which i think is equivilant to about 3 normal size cinnamon sticks. this is the same amount i used for the first cherries, but because i used a lot less vinegar, the cinnamon was significantly more prominent. and, opted for palm sugar, because i had it in the fridge, but i'm sure you could use whichever sugar you have in the house. oh, and one last thing, i used two cups of cherries, but i'm pretty sure i could have used at least 1/2 cup more, if not a full cup for the amount of brine i had.
these cherries were great in a salad with arugula, pickled onions and goat cheese.

1 1/3 cups white wine vinegar
3 cinnamon sticks or 1 very long cinnamon stick, broken into three pieces
1 habanero pepper, halved
1/4 cup palm sugar
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 packed cups cherries

in small saucepot, combine vinegar, cinnamon sticks, habanero pepper, palm sugar and kosher salt. bring to a boil over high heat; reduce to heat to low and simmer 5 minutes. let cool 10 minutes.

meanwhile, using fork, poke each cherry 4 times. place cherries in a medium bowl. top with slightly cooled brine mixture, shaking slightly to make sure all the cherries are under the brine. let sit at least 2 hours at room temperature. transfer to a clean glass jar or cover bowl tightly. store in fridge.

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