Growing up, we had a sour cherry tree in the backyard. And I hated it. I hated it because it was cruel in a way that kids think they’re intimately familiar with–shiny, perfect-looking thing dangled inches from your face that when you reach for, is totally disappointing, crushing even (because when you’re a kid, it’s all very dramatic).
Sour doesn’t even aptly describe what these cherries taste like; they’re more along the lines of “caustic” and “acerbic,” especially if you’re a kid. I never understood how something that looked like the very embodiment of cherry perfection–round, bright red marbles hanging from a tree–could taste so awful, but they did.
I don’t think it was until I had moved to New York that I came across sour cherries in a format I wholly approved of: a sour cherry crumble bar. Unfortunately, it was very “unapproved” way–in a take-away box from some uppity coffee shop in my apartment refrigerator, and it belonged to my roommate. So I only had A Taste. (Don’t ever live with me, people. I cannot be trusted.) Just a little evening off the side, and then a little more leveling so it looked better, and then pushed it so far back in the fridge I believe the roommate found it months later and didn’t recognize it.
It was, in a word, amazing. And it had taken me 27 years to realize that sour cherries made the best kind of dessert. Of course, when I called my mother to say that I finally had the perfect plan for those sour cherries that mostly went to waste she told me that the tree? It died. And they’d had it removed. Like, years ago. And I was crushed.
So when Alex picked up the prettiest batch of sour cherries from the Greenmarket last month, I had great plans for them. But, as the days got busier, I realized I wouldn’t have time to do anything grand with them, so I pitted and froze them and there they sat in the freezer for four weeks, taunting Alex. (Who, sour-lover that he is, found them to be as delicious as ice pops.)
With the summer almost gone and still lacking any interest in cooking things that take more than 20 minutes, I was feeling the pressure to use these guys up while they were still vaguely seasonal, when I remembered a recipe I’d seen for a compote that takes no time at all. In the week since, we’ve put it on everything from slices of angel food cake to my morning yogurt. I can only imagine how amazing it would be over ice cream or panna cotta or cheesecake or pancakes or or or… your spoon. Yes, that too.
One year ago: Double Chocolate Torte
Sour Cherry Compote
Adapted from an old Bon Appetit recipe
Makes 2 cups
2/3 cup water
6 tablespoons sugar
3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise
2 1/2 cups (1 pound) cherries, pitted
Combine water, sugar and lemon juice in heavy medium saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean into saucepan; add bean. Bring to boil over high heat, stirring until sugar dissolves. Boil until thin syrup forms, about 7 minutes. Reduce heat to medium; add cherries. Stir 1 minute. At this point, if you would like to keep your cherries whole and lovely as they are, stop cooking it and you’re done. I ended up letting mine simmer about 5 minutes more, until the cherries were slightly more broken down, but quite far from a jam. Cool the compote, then cover and chill until cold.
Do ahead: Keeps in the fridge for at least a week.