I saw some juicy cherries at the market a few weeks ago and I couldn’t help but snatch a bunch. Cherries are a fruit I grew up with, a snack my family regularly enjoyed after dinner throughout the summer. I can easily eat a bag on my own, but I also love them in everything from rich chocolate desserts to crisp strudel. And I’ve spent hours pitting them in restaurants, cutting into their juicy skin to remove the center, desperately trying to keep my chefs coat white.
My fondest cherry memory is the day I spent picking them. TH and I were working on a goat farm in Southern France, and we drove to a neighbor’s foie gras farm, one that happened to have a giant cherry tree. The low hanging fruit was picked through, but everything else was ours for the taking. We spent hours with Cyril, the goat farmer who was training us in French living that week, climbing up rickety ladders with baskets, picking cherries and eating our fill the whole time. By the end, my stomach was as sore as my arms!
We spent the last of the afternoon hours back on the goat farm, pitting the cherries with Cyril’s wife Ted. Somehow I still managed to eat a few more, so excited for this taste at fresh, straight-from-the-tree cherries. And although the couple froze most of the fruit for the winter, I used several handfuls for a cherry strudel to go along with lunch the next day. Food was simple on this farm, hearty meals of their goat cheese, homemade bread, and vegetables from the garden, but I wanted to give them a treat, something to say thank you for the experiences they gave us. I can still remember eating the strudel, explaining how I learned to make the European dessert in Los Angeles. After a long day of hard work on the farm, we were all happy for something sweet.
I still love making and eating that strudel, but with a full bar cabinet (thanks to a our recent cocktail birthday party for TH), I had something stronger on my mind for my most recent cherry find. After infusing them into a bright syrup, I mixed up a Manhattan, subbing Cynar for the bitters. The combination of the earthy, vegetal Cynar and the sweet cherry syrup made for a highly approachable, easily drinkable pour. And the flavors, a little rough and little sweet, reminded me of that day on the farm. The syrup is easy to make, and works just as well on fresh vanilla ice cream or in a salad, so try a batch the next time you find cherries at your market.