red fruit summer pudding

IMG_7840A perfect, perfect dessert for summer gatherings in Oregon, this lovely, solid, old-fashioned British chilled pudding is laden with sweetened berry and cherry juice.  I use red currants, raspberries, and tayberries from the garden, plus a glut of sour cherries and a good slosh of homemade cranberry liqueur.  Life is good.

It’s fine to use dark berries, but I like the study in red.  In fact, this recipe is based on one for blackberries that I wrote for the Register-Guard a number of years ago, since disappeared (see purple pic below).

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Also nice: you can take the crusts and layer them in a small bowl, then use any remaining berry compote to make a red fruit summer pudding for a solo breakfast, comme ça:

IMG_7837Just press and chill just like the big pudding.

This dessert is a show stopper and should be made for an otherwise humdrum potluck at least once a year in July, when the sour cherries are ripe.  If you are fortunate enough to have access to endless flats of berries, like we are in the Willamette Valley, it’s not terrifically expensive, just a small luxury, but the costs may be prohibitive elsewhere. Sorry!  :)  You could use frozen and thawed fruit, but it’s not really the same.

Red Fruit Summer Pudding

Serves 8-10.

The proportions in this recipe are for an 8-inch glass mixing bowl. Use glass to see how well the juice has soaked into the bread.  You may use a 1-1/2-quart soufflé dish or large glass loaf pan, but there may be fruit left over. Frozen fruit may be used for this recipe, and it actually helps if the raspberries are frozen so they’ll release more juice. Plan for an overnight refrigeration.

  • 6 cups raspberries, preferably pre-frozen
  • 6 cups fresh, pitted sour cherries with juice
  • 2 cups red currants, gooseberries, or a mix of both
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 tablespoon red fruit liqueur or a little kirsch
  • 1 loaf firm, high-quality white bread (I’ve used Market of Choice’s crumpet bread with good results; don’t use sourdough)
  • extra berries for garnish
  • whipped cream for serving

In a stockpot, bring the 14 cups of berries and sugar up to a simmer. Cook until the sugar is melted and the berries release their juices, about 10 minutes. Remove from heat and add the kirsch.

Remove the crusts from the bread and slice it into 1/2-inch slices if you are not using pre-sliced bread.

Line bowl with plastic wrap to ease the removal of the pudding. Use enough wrap to let it hang over the sides for folding over the top when you finish.

Place the slices of bread around the bottom and side of the bowl, overlapping the slices slightly and cutting pieces to fit the holes where necessary.

Set aside and refrigerate one cup of berries with juice for the final presentation.

Working slowly, ladle 3-4 cups of berries and juice over the bread, pressing juice and pulp into the bread on the sides of the bowl as well as the bottom. Pour half of the berries into the bread-lined pan, and spread them over the bottom layer of bread to cover the entire surface.

Add another layer of bread on top of the berry and bread layer, placing and cutting pieces as before. Spread out about half the remaining berries on the sides and bottom of the layer of bread.

Cover with a final layer of bread, and add the remaining berries and juice.

Fold the plastic wrap over the bread on top. Before placing in the refrigerator, find a plate or other flat surface to fit on top of the pudding, inside the bowl. Weigh down the plate with a large can of tomatoes or large bag of beans. Refrigerate overnight.

Before serving, unfold the plastic wrap and use it to help invert the pudding onto a large serving plate. Remove the bowl and the plastic wrap. You may see spots that are not fully stained with juice. Use the reserved juice to color in these spots, and pour the rest on the sides of the pudding. Garnish with extra fresh berries.  Cut into slices and serve with whipped cream.

as american as roman honey pickled cherries with savory

IMG_3581Looking for a new locavore cherry recipe in anticipation of the sour cherry crop now ready to go in the Eugene area?  Go no farther than ancient Rome.

A fellow participant in the Cult of Pre-Pasteurian Preservation and Food Preparation Facebook group page, Justin Mansfield, wrote that one of his favorite Roman preservation recipes is this one, a pickled cherry concoction using honey, red wine vinegar, and savory. He provides some details for Classics geeks and historical recreators:

Since there’s some interest, here’s the original recipe, from the 10th century Roman agricultural collection Geoponica (Farm Work) 10.42: Περὶ διαμονῆς κερασίων· Τοῦ Αὐτοῦ. Κεράσια ἀφαιρεθέντα τοῦ δένδρου πρὸ ἀνατολῶν ἡλίου, καὶ εἰς σκεῦος ἐμβεβλημένα, προϋποβληθείσης εἰς τὸν πυθμένα θρύμβης, εἶτα κερασίων, καὶ πάλιν θρύμβης, καὶ ὀξυμέλιτος γλυκέος ἐπιβαλλομένου φυλάττεται· καὶ εἰς καλάμους δὲ ὡσαύτως φυλάττεται.On the preservation of cherries, by same {i.e. this recipe is excerpted from Florentius, a lost author of the Imperial era}. Cherries that are picked from the tree before sunrise and put into a container, with savory first strewn over the bottom, then cherries, then once again savory, and sweet oxymel added on top, will keep. They’ll also keep the same way with rushes.

The species referenced are probably Prunus cerasus, and Satureja thymbra respectively. (No idea what kind of rush is referred to here… the name refers to several species. Dalby also points out that it’s unclear if the meaning is “laid out on rush mats” or “with rush-leaves used in place of savory.”)

He also notes that other sources indicate the honey:vinegar ratio should be between 6-8:1 parts by volume, not weight.  I opted for less sweet, and may just regret it, since I chose a very full-flavor, acidic Italian cabernet vinegar.

The cherries should be sour pie cherries, not sweet ones (but I’m willing to look the other way if you can’t get sour).  The recipe reads as if the Romans didn’t pit the cherries, but you may opt to do so.  I usually buy my sour cherries at Hentze Farm in Junction City, already bagged and pitted because I’m so lazy.  Pros: no sticky pitting on a hot day; easier to eat final product; and you get a quart or so of the most glorious juice in the world.  Cons: not nearly as pretty as intact cherries; you’ll need to pick through the cherries for bruised ones, as the machine handles them roughly; and you don’t get the nice almond flavor from the pits when pickling them.  In either case, you must use sour cherries almost immediately or freeze them, as they are exceedingly fragile.

Romans didn’t cook with sugar; honey was a basic sweetener.  For locavores, you already likely rely heavily on honey and even might have a hive or two to help mitigate the bee crisis.  As for me, I made this recipe with a wild star thistle honey I bought on the road in California, since it seems vaguely Mediterranean and has the scent of almonds from nearby groves (or so I fantasize).  But if you’re in the market, there’s some local thistle honey that’s being sold at Sundance, distributed with other wonderful varieties like pennyroyal, snowberry, meadowfoam, buckwheat, and coriander. (The coriander is grown in fields north of Eugene, Hummingbird Wholesale tells me, and the pennyroyal tastes a little like mint.)  Also in honey news, I hope you caught the interview with new Eugenius and prolific cookbook author Marie Simmons on Food for Thought on KLCC last weekend.  She has just published a book on honey, with history and recipes.  Marie was our last interview before our summer hiatus, so check out the archive if you missed it and you miss us! :-)

Anyway, the Roman pickled cherry recipe is wonderful with homemade duck rillettes, which I had for breakfast in a moment of sheer decadence.  Life’s too short for Cheerios.  As Epicurus would have said, had he known the phrase, carpe diem!  The savory brings out a, well, savory quality of the cherries.

Honey Pickled Cherries with Savory

Makes one quart.

  • 4 cups sour cherries, either pitted or not
  • 1 cup honey
  • 1/8 cup wine vinegar
  • 12 two-inch sprigs of savory (either winter or summer; I used winter, which is stronger)

Wash and sterilize a quart jar.  If you are using fresh sour cherries, rinse and sort out the bad ones.  If you are using pitted cherries, strain cherries and sort for badly bruised ones.  Reserve the juice unless you are completely nuts.  Pour yourself a shot of pure sour cherry nectar and knock it back.  Ah, there.  OK, now proceed.

Heat the honey and wine vinegar in a medium saucepan, then take off heat and let the cherries soak in the mixture for a few minutes.

Rinse savory.  Place 3-4 sprigs at the bottom of the jar, then add another layer in the middle, then add some on top to help keep the cherries immersed in the liquid.

Using a jar funnel, carefully ladle the cherries into your jar, pressing down gently to fill gaps, and adding savory in the middle and on top.  Fill with 2 inches head space.  You may have more cherries than necessary; if so, enjoy over ice cream with more honey.  If there is not enough liquid, either add back the juice you removed or press down a little harder on whole cherries to encourage them to exude juice.

Place on a plate, and cover jar with cheesecloth.  If you used unpitted cherries, it is especially important that you have enough overflow capacity. Let sit on counter for 48 hours minimum.  At this point, taste and decide if you want to ferment longer for a fizzier, deeper, sweet-sour flavor, or otherwise refrigerate.  Pitted cherries will ferment faster.

Enjoy as a condiment with any roast meat or sausage, as a special side on a cheese plate, or, as I just did, with duck rillettes.

pickled cherries and cherry festival

One of my favorite local farms, Hentze Farm, is having their annual cherry festival this weekend, July 16 and 17.  I’m planning to sling preserved cherry products for the crowd on Saturday as part of the Master Food Preserver demo station.  We’ll be answering questions about how to preserve summer tree fruit and berries.

Come out to Junction City to say hello!

This might be the only week (they tell me) for U-Pick cherries, and you can also buy other fruit and vegetables.  There will be BBQ, live music, and farm animals and games for the kids.  Kids and adults alike may enjoy the cannery equipment that sets this farm apart from others, too.  The family bought up some of the machines that cut beans, pit cherries, and strip corn, so you can always get your farm-fresh produce prepared for convenience there.  Each year, I buy a 10# bag of freshly pitted sour cherries for brandied, frozen, and dried use during the year.  The leftover juice can be turned into a sour cherry jelly or syrup.

I’ll be bringing my pickled cherries to sample as a prelude to my demo at the upcoming “Intro to Pickling” class on July 22.  We’re nearly full but if you’re desperate to learn how to pickle, it’s from 6 to 8:30 at the Community Church of Christ, 1485 Gilham Road.  Call 541-344-4885 for information on how to register. The class is $15 or you can still buy all three remaining classes (pickles, tomatoes & salsa, meats) for $40).

Believe me, once you taste these, you’ll want to include them in your repertoire, so I’m including a recipe here!

My pickled cherries use the classic Chinese five spices as flavoring: star anise, cinnamon, clove, Sichuan peppercorn and fennelseed.  These spices all work beautifully with cherries individually — why not put them all together?

As they mature for a month or so, the vinegar and spices mellow to produce a sweet, sour, spiced pickle that is absolutely delicious with roast pork or duck.  Imagine it alongside a thickly cut pork chop from Biancalana Pork, for example.

Pickled Cherries with Five Spices

Makes about 3 pints

You can use fresh Bing (dark sweet) cherries or premium frozen ones (the bigger the better) for this recipe.  I used Hentze’s frozen cherries from last year, already pitted, since the crop wasn’t quite ready.  And a pint of fresh Queen Annes for some color variation!  The cherries are prettier if you leave the pits in, and the pits add a nice, slightly almond flavor to the brine. Be sure to plan ahead for this recipe, as it sits for several days on the counter and then needs to rest for a month or so.

  • 4 cups sweet dark cherries (see note above)
  • 2 cups cider or white wine vinegar
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2/3 cup water
  • 1 small cinnamon stick
  • 2 teaspoons Sichuan peppercorns (can use less for less kick)
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 3-4 whole star anise
  • 2 teaspoons fennel seeds

Stem the cherries and pit them, if you wish.  Let cherries sit overnight in the vinegar in a non-reactive bowl.

In a non-reactive saucepan, add sugar, water, and spices. Drain the vinegar from the cherries into a bowl or directly into the saucepan if you are bold.  Place the cherries into the non-reactive bowl.

Heat the vinegar mixture to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes.

Let the liquid cool to room temperature, then pour over the cherries.  Cover with a plate to submerge, and put a towel or plastic wrap over the bowl.  Let sit at room temperature for 2-3 days.

Drain the liquid from the cherries into a non-reactive saucepan.

Remove the cinnamon stick and strain the spices (if you wish).  Boil the liquid.  Simmer for 10 minutes.  Let cool to room temperature.

Clean and sterilize 3-4 pint jars.  Scoop the cherries into the jars, leaving room for quite a bit of liquid.

Pour the liquid over the cherries in the jars, leaving an inch or so headspace.  Cover the jar with a non-reactive cap (the plastic ones are fine, but metal lids/rings are not) and store in the refrigerator for a month before eating. Keeps for many months.

frankenstein farm day 2010

We visited mad scientists at work this weekend at the Lewis-Brown Research farm in Corvallis.  Inspired by last year’s trip, when I sampled new blackberry varieties, I thought I’d see what was now in development.  The cherries were in full, glorious fruit under the special experimental tents, marked by colorful balloons that mimic birds of prey.  We sampled about a dozen varieties, including some fantastic cultivars that deepen the flavor and firm up the texture of Raniers.

We sampled the wares at the National Clonal Germplasm Repository, or a field of blueberry specimens from all over the world.  OSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture work together to preserve the genetic material of all the blueberry cultivars they can find.  It’s one of 30 seed banks around the nation set up to preserve agricultural crops and other plants.

Although the high bush varieties were full and tall enough to hide my blueberry fan friend, the fruit was about 2-3 weeks late this year, and the scientists commented that they were ripening unevenly, with the extra early varieties coming in with the early varieties, and an unusual mix of ripe and unripe berries on the same branch.  As you might imagine, this would cause all kinds of problems for commercial growers.

At the bee station, we got to stick our hands into a box and let drones tickle us with their fuzzy, buzzy bodies.   Bee expert Dr. Ramesh Sagili, who was on site in a beekeeper suit talking about hive health, was hired by OSU last year. We also talked to some of the research team working on a new pest in the Willamette Valley, spotted drosophilia, which burrows into ripening fruit and can wipe out a crop in a manner of days.

We also talked to Dr. Jim Myers, the vegetable development specialist, who is now part of a research coalition that is working with different regions and farms to help improve organic farming practices.  Dr. Myers was soliciting names for his purple tomatoes, a lovely aubergine color that apparently have more anti-oxidants.

“But how do they taste,” cried one visitor.

“Like a tomato,” he replied.

apricot ménage-à-trois

When I saw a lug of pristine Eastern Oregon apricots on my way back from Montana, I knew I had to have ’em.  In short order, they became:

Orangette’s version of Zuni’s apricot tart.  I *love* this recipe.  And the crust is excellent for all pies, by the way.  I substituted plain distilled vinegar, being out of cider vinegar, but I wonder if some of my fruit vinegars might be nice with, say, a blackberry pie.  It would tinge the crust a pleasant mauve.  I think. And the apricots really do soften up and lend a juicy glaze.  It’s almost better to use slightly underripe ones, and don’t go more than a pound.  Restraint, unbelievably, is good.

Apricot jam, two kinds.  The plain jam is tart, sweet, and bursting with summery fruit.  The Czech apricot is flavored with Becherovka, a cinnamon-y bitter, and a bit of cinnamon stick.  Both have a shot of Hungarian palinka, an apricot brandy.  These rely on natural pectin and the softened fruit to thicken the gel.

Brandied apricots.  With a quick boil and sterilized jars, they’ll keep for a few months in the refrigerator.  The brandy can be used for cocktails, and the apricots for ice cream or baked goods.

And the leftover brandy, slightly flavored with apricot, I used for this year’s brandied sour cherries.  The pitted sour cherries are available for a very short window each year.  I usually buy mine pitted by Hentze’s Farm in Junction City by the 5# bag.  Makes life so much easier.  I love the Hentze folks, and they scored some equipment when the local canneries went out of business, so you can save time by purchasing very high quality cut beans and corn, pitted cherries, and shelled nuts that they grow on the farm.

They also have lugs of apricots, another ephemerally short season.  If you want to make any of these treats, the time is now!