Cherry Spoon Sweet

Cherry spoon sweet is a wonderful way to satisfy anyone’s sweet tooth. The flavor is so intense that one or two teaspoonfuls are usually enough to let you return to a diet of celery or baby carrots without feeling cheated.

The only serious drawback to this recipe is that you really need a cherry pitter. Spoon sweet is normally made with fresh sour cherries, but sweet cherries work fine too. Fresh cherries have pits in them, and the pits are virtually impossible to remove from the fruit without a pitter. You either have to buy a pitter or ask your friends if they have one they are willing to lend.
Cherries with pitterWe are fortunate to have such a friend. Rich and his wife Audrey bought a neat pitter that fits on top of a standard Mason jar. You just set the pitter on top of a pint jar, secure it with a canning ring and start pitting your cherries. The pits fall into the jar, making the operation neat and clean.

Spoon sweets probably originated in areas surrounding the eastern Mediterranean. Today they are popular in Egypt, Turkey, Greece, the Balkans and Russia. They are a variety of preserve that may be made with many different fruits and even with some vegetables and flowers. Once they have been cooked in the thick syrup, spoon sweets can be canned and stored like jellies and jams so it is possible that they were invented by people who hated to watch fresh fruits go to waste when there were more than could be consumed when they were in season.

If you are like me, you will enjoy making and sharing this lovely dessert with friends and relatives. Give it a try. If it is too sweet for you by the spoonful, garnish a dish of ice cream with some or spread it on your toast at breakfast.

INGREDIENTS:

1 lb. cherries
2 cups granulated sugar
1 cup water
1/4 tsp. vanilla extract
1 T lemon juice

PROCEDURE:

Wash and remove the stems and pit the cherries and spread half of them in a medium-sized glass or stainless steel bowl. Sprinkle one cup of sugar over the cherries. Spread the rest of the cherries over the sugar, cover them with the second cup of sugar and gently pour a cup of cold water into the bowl. Tip the bowl to make sure that all the sugar has been moistened.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it into the refrigerator for about twelve hours. Take the bowl from the refrigerator and stir the cherries to make sure that the sugar has mixed with the water and cherries. Stir gently to keep from crushing any cherries. Pour the cherries and juice into a three quart saucepan. Set the pan over high heat until the mixture begins to boil.

Reduce the heat and simmer the cherries for twenty-five minutes, stirring occasionally and skimming off any foam that forms. Gently stir in the vanilla extract and simmer the cherries for another fifteen minutes.

Put a couple of saucers into the freezer after you stir in the vanilla. When the cherries have simmered the fifteen minutes, take one of the chilled saucers from the freezer and drip two or three drops of juice from a spoon on to the saucer. If the juice is the right consistency, after a few seconds it will barely run when you tip the saucer a little.

This resembles the test used to check if jelly is done. In this case, however, you are testing whether you have a thick syrup. If the drops are runny, continue simmering the cherries for another three minutes, then test again.

When the juice passes the drip test, stir in a tablespoon of lemon juice and simmer for two more minutes. Remove the pan from the stove and set the pan aside to cool.

After the cherries are at room temperature, pour them into a container with a good lid. A quart canning jar works fine.

Store your cherry sweet in a cool cabinet or pantry and serve it by teaspoonfuls in small dessert dishes or over ice cream or yogurt. It will keep several days without refrigeration.

NOTES: Be as careful as you can to keep from mashing the cherries. Part of the charm of this sweet is that the fruit retains its identity in the syrup.

The cherry pitter occasionally misses the pit, so you should be cautious when eating cherry sweet. I have found that it helps to position the cherry with the stem scar upwards towards the plunger.

Morello Cherry Crumb Pie

A friend introduced me to Morello cherries a few years ago. I didn’t know what they were, but he told me that they could be used to make cherry pies. The next time he visited Trader Joe’s in Woodbury, Minnesota, he brought me a jar of the dark red cherries as a gift.

The pie cherries I knew were bright red cherries that my mother bought every summer from traveling fruit vendors. Thanks to the Internet, I learned that the cherries I was familiar with were Montmorency cherries. They belong to the Amarelle family of sour cherries, but I also found out that Morello is the name of another large family of sour cherries that make delicious jams, crisps and pies like those made with Montmorency cherries.

Amarelle cherries were brought to America by settlers from England long before the Revolutionary War, and the Montmorency variety became the most common sour cherry planted by settlers as they moved west from the Atlantic. Morello cherries, on the other hand, are recent immigrants.

The dominant variety grown in Hungary, the Balaton cherry, was introduced first to cherry growers in Michigan by Dr. Amy Iezzoni, a professor at Michigan State University, in 1984. It is now the most popular commercial Morello cherry in the the United States, but some other varieties of English Morello cherries such as the Kansas Sweet and Northstar are grown in backyards or smaller orchards.

Morello cherry trees flower a bit later than Amarelles, which means that Morello trees have an advantage in areas subject to late frosts. For someone who likes to cook and eat, however, the biggest advantage of Morello cherries is that canned Morellos make wonderful cherry pies and crisps any time of the year. You can buy them online or at some supermarkets. In our area, Aldi and Trader Joe’s both carry them.

Here is how to make a delicious cherry pie with Morello cherries.

INGREDIENTS:

For the filling:
1 24 oz. jar Morello Cherries in light syrup
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 T + 1/2 tsp. corn starch
1 tsp. lemon juice
1/4 tsp. almond extract
1 tsp. butter

For the topping:
1/4 cup all-purpose flour
1/2 cup old-fashioned oatmeal
1/3 cup light brown sugar
1/4 tsp. cinnamon
3 T butter

PROCEDURE:

Soften three tablespoons of butter in a small bowl. If you use unsalted butter, add an eighth teaspoon of salt to the butter when you soften it.

Line a nine-inch pie plate with a crust and crimp the top edge. If you don’t already have a recipe you prefer, you’ll find my recipe for pie crust here. It makes two crusts, so you can line two pie plates and freeze one to use later when you are in a hurry to make a dessert. Take the crust out of the freezer, pour in the filling, and in just a few minutes you’ll have a pie in the oven.

Preheat the oven to 400º.

Drain the juice from the cherries into a two quart saucepan and reserve the cherries. Mix the corn starch into the sugar in a small bowl. Whisk the sugar and corn starch into the juice and set the pan over moderate heat. Use the whisk or a fork to stir the juice often as it heats to make sure that you get a smooth sauce.

Reduce the heat as the juice thickens and becomes clear, and stir in the lemon juice, almond extract and butter. Stir the cherries into the thickened juice, bring the mixture back to a boil and simmer the filling for a minute. Remove the pan from the heat and let the filling cool a bit while you finish the crumb topping.

You can mix together the flour, oatmeal, brown sugar and cinnamon in a medium-sized bowl while the juice is cooking. Once you have set the filling aside to cool, cut the softened butter into the dry ingredients until you have a uniform mixture.

Pour the filling into the crust, sprinkle the crumb topping evenly over the filling and put the pie on a baking sheet on a center shelf in the preheated oven. Reduce the heat to 375º and bake for thirty-five to forty minutes. When the topping and crust are lightly browned, remove the pie from the oven to cool on a rack before serving.

NOTES: Be sure to put a baking sheet under the pie, as it, like many cherry pies, tends to run over a little as it bakes.

A scoop of good vanilla ice cream goes perfectly with a slice of cherry pie.