Monday, May 25, 2009

Cherry, cherry

Cherries are at the top of my Favorite Food list. When Craig and I first moved to the country, we fancied ourselves to be Plucky Pioneers and we planted a small orchard that included four cherry trees.

I envisioned harvesting a bounty of fruit from our shady grove and winning blue ribbons for my pies at the County Fair. My rich fantasy life did not include any understanding of the amount of care and tending required by these temperamental trees. And that Cottonwood hardpan? Not exactly a favorable medium for growing anything besides star thistle.

The trees died. But we were Plucky Pioneers, so we rolled up our sleeves and planted another set. They, too, expired on our watch.

We put a halt to the carnage, cut our losses. We flunked Farming 101 and surrendered most of our acreage to a thriving crop of star thistle. But I count the days until cherry season, and when cherries appear in the produce aisle, I’m the crazy lady doing the Happy Dance.

My sister Katie introduced us to homemade Cherry Cobbler a few years ago, and my son Max instantly declared it his “favorite dessert.” I’ve tweaked the recipe over the years -- we prefer it heavy on the cherries, light on the cobbler.

Like some of the best things that life has to offer, Cherry Cobbler is a little bit messy, a little bit of work -- but oh-so-beautiful and luscious and an ideal way celebrate summer’s arrival.

Step one is to pit the cherries. I use this OXO pitter from Bed, Bath and Beyond -- but That Kitchen Place had a selection of pitters available, too. I remove the plastic splash guard – it just gets in the way.

Cherry pitting can be a sloppy job, but you can minimize the splatters by doing much of the work in the kitchen sink. If you hold the pitter in one hand and shoot the pit into your other hand, you can be sure you got it and you have a better chance of keeping your cobbler pit-free. And wear an apron – you’ll be glad you did.

Fresh Cherry Cobbler

For filling:

2 1/2 pounds fresh, sweet cherries, pitted
3/4 cup sugar
1 tablespoon cornstarch

Cook all filling ingredients in a large saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until sugar and cornstarch dissolve – 5 to 7 minutes. Spoon filling into a 12 by 7 inch baking dish.
Preheat oven to 350°F.

For topping:

3/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
pinch of salt
2 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small pieces
1/2 cup buttermilk
½ teaspoon vanilla

Top off with:
2 teaspoons sugar
Make topping and bake cobbler:

Combine flour, 2 tablespoons sugar, baking soda, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl. Using a pastry blender, blend the butter and the dry ingredients until it resembles coarse meal. Stir buttermilk and vanilla together and add to flour/butter mixture. Stir until just combined. Drop the dough in tablespoon-sized chunks on the cherry filling.

Sprinkle 2 teaspoons of sugar over the top.

Bake until topping is browned, cherries are bubbly and the juices are thickened, about 35- 40 minutes.
Cool slightly and serve warm with good vanilla ice cream.

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