In the Bleak Midwinter -- Homegrown Cherries
That's cold cherry soup in the champagne glasses, second course for this year's Campsie Thanksgiving dinner. I'll come back to the soup below. I have a special relationship with cherries. Sour Kentucky cherries - the Montmorency variety, ideally -- the kind that ripen in June and make Kentucky's most delicious pies.
Counting some of the ways:
Favorite childhood dessert: Homemade cherry pie
Favorite childhood Lifesaver flavorr: Cherry - even fakey as it was
My mother-in-law's fondly remembered childhood treat: Cold cherry soup -- and I'm still coming back to it below
Last dish I cooked, with my fine brother and a beloved friend, for my father in his last days six months ago: Homemade cherry pie from his own cherry trees -- and he ate two big pieces
Ecstatic early summer 2008 experience, repeated and repeated and repeated: Picking Montmorency cherries from my dear friend's tree in the heart of Lexington, eating cherries straight and tart from the tree; sometimes picking cherries while sitting on her garden bench, sometimes picking with my back aching from bending over -- not the usual cherry-picking posture -- such was the abundance of the weighted cherry tree branches
Happy news from horticulture specialists: Sour cherry trees expected to do well in new downtown urban orchards! Yes to Montmorency! No spraying, pruning, or highly skilled care required.
Fortuitous freezer timing: The arrival of our first-ever freezer, bought to stretch the number of meals we eat from home and from local farms and orchards, just before cherries ripened this year
And now to that soup. One year in June, the week before a handsome son and his sweet high school/college/adult sweetheart married, our house had a lot of company, a lot of meals, and a lot of trips to the Lexington Farmers Market. On one trip I discovered sour cherries from Bourbon County, and bought three pints, thinking "PIE." When I set the cherries out in the kitchen, my mother-in-law said, "Oh! Cherry soup!" And that's what those cherries turned into, after she and her sister explained that their grandmother had made a cold cherry soup they had loved as children, and after I spent a minute googling something I had never even imagined: "cherry soup." If you do the same, you will see a theme (sour cherries, sugar) with many variations: cream, sour cream, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, almond extract, vanilla, champagne, wine, sherry, lemon, lemon zest, cornstarch.
Some are regional variations and some result when cooks behave like the blogger at Food for the Thoughtless who announced, "I have taken some liberties with this recipe." (Even with the liberties, it's a rather good looking cherry soup recipe.)
I no longer have the recipe I discovered and used, with excellent results, but I have an approach, and it works. In a heavy-bottomed sauce pan, cook fresh or frozen sour cherries with some sugar (start with 1/4 cup sugar for each cup of cherries) and half a cinnamon stick until the mixture boils. Boil about five minutes. Remove from heat and fish out the cinnamon stick. Blend carefully and thoroughly until the soup is very smooth. Taste for sweet-tartness (remembering that cold foods taste less sweet) and adjust the sweetness if needed. Chill thoroughly. Serve in bowls, wine glasses, or champagne glasses. Add a bit of sour cream or crème fraîche, or a sprig or mint, or a strip of lemon zest, or a fresh cherry as garnish.
Be amazed. If your cherries are good ones, the soup will have a broad flavor array, as if spices and liqueurs and almond and lemon -- at least those flavors -- had snuck in the pot while you weren't looking. Maybe cream, too, if your cherries blend up smoothly.
I had thought maybe I was imagining these extra flavors, given my special relationship with cherries, but the loved ones who shared our Thanksgiving dinner affirmed the inexplicable presence of flavors that seemed way beyond cherry. I gave thanks for those extra flavors, and for the mystery about them. I gave thanks for the Montmorency tree and my friend's one-pointed commitment to planting that tree first thing after she moved into her downtown house. I gave thanks for the freezer that kept the cherries from June until November so we could enjoy their rosy prelude to our marvelous meal.