THE arrival of local cherries means two things: summer and Christmas. Cherries are available from November to February, with different varieties harvested at different times. Flavours range from mild to rich and sweet. Some are slightly tart.
When shopping for cherries, look for green stalks and shiny, bright skins. The flesh should be plump and taut. The skin becomes dull when overripe.
Avoid soft and bruised or small and hard fruit. Once picked, cherries will not ripen further, so are best eaten within four days. They last longer with the stem attached. Store cherries, unwashed and loosely packed, in an airtight container or plastic bag in the fridge. Wait until just before eating to wash the cherries as this can make them soft.
Cherries can be frozen, too. Wash first, then dry and freeze in an airtight container for up to six months.
Cherries are crisp and refreshing served simply in a bowl of crushed ice, or piled high as an impressive centrepiece of the Christmas table. They are equally brilliant when cooked and work well with flavours such as cinnamon, chocolate, coconut and almonds. Or they can be pickled or made into sorbet.
Best of all, they bring back memories of carefree summer holidays. As renowned British food writer Nigel Slater puts it: "A bag of cherries is a bag of happiness."
Seared carpaccio of beef with remoulade and pickled cherries
A PERFECT dish for summer entertaining. Make a large platter and put it in the middle of the table. The beef is served delicately raw on the inside, with a seared crust. If you
prefer to cook the meat through, place in a 200C preheated oven for about 20 minutes. Leave it to rest at least 15 minutes before carving.
For the pickled cherries
425ml white wine vinegar
12 whole allspice
3 bay leaves
500g fresh cherries
For the celeriac remoulade
1 small celeriac, peeled
Sea salt to season
Juice of 1/2 lemon
5 tbsp good-quality mayonnaise
1/2 cup chopped parsley
For the carpaccio
2 tbsp black peppercorns
2 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tbsp salt
1.5kg fillet of beef
2 tbsp horseradish cream
200ml creme fraiche
Juice of 1 lemon
Handful picked watercress
100g shaved parmesan
For the pickled cherries Bring vinegar, peppercorns, allspice, sugar and bay leaves to a simmer in a small pot. Leave to cool for 5 minutes before pouring over cherries in an airtight jar. Pickle for a day before putting in the fridge where they will keep indefinitely. Serve at room temperature.
For the remoulade Thinly slice celeriac, preferably on a mandolin, then julienne finely into thin strips. Put in a bowl, sprinkle with a pinch of salt and leave to sit for a few minutes. Mix lemon juice, mayonnaise and parsley, add celeriac and mix thoroughly. Set aside.
For the beef Put peppercorns, coriander seeds and salt in a mortar and pound with a pestle until coarsely ground. Rub all over beef.
Heat a grill pan or large frying pan until very hot and sear meat for about 5 minutes until brown and crispy on all sides. Remove from pan and rest for at least 15 minutes, then slice thinly and arrange on a platter.
Mix horseradish cream with creme fraiche and thin out with a little lemon juice to pouring consistency. Drizzle over platter of beef slices, garnish with watercress and parmesan. Serve with remoulade and pickled cherries.
Cherry bircher muesli
BIRCHER muesli can be made ahead. The addition of cherries makes it festive enough for Christmas morning.
1 cup cherries, pitted and halved
1 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups fruit juice — try fresh coconut juice or apple juice
1 1/2 cups natural yoghurt
1/2 cup toasted flaked almonds
2 tbsp sunflower seeds
2 tsp sesame seeds
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1-2 tbsp honey to taste
Extra cherries and yoghurt to serve
Combine all ingredients and stir well. Refrigerate for 1 hour or overnight.
Serve with extra cherries and yoghurt.
THIS is not a traditional ice-cream recipe but it still has great ice-cream-like texture. It's quick, easy, doesn't need an ice-cream machine and is great with other berries.
300g frozen pitted cherries
1/2 cup castor sugar
2 large egg whites
Chop cherries roughly and place in the bowl of an electric mixer with a whisk attachment. Whisk on medium speed for a few minutes to break up.
Add sugar and egg whites and whisk on high speed for 5 minutes, until more than doubled in volume.
Place mixture in a 1-litre container and freeze for 4 hours (or overnight if possible). Remove from freezer to serve.
Makes 1 litre