We love a birthday.
We spent Sue’s birthday munching celebrations in the car in the rain whilst setting out plants in April. So in July we decided to make the most of the sunshine and celebrate the cherry season for Lissy’s birthday this week.
We’re lucky to have our studio in the middle of the Garden of England in the beautiful Kent countryside. At this time of year there are lots of cherry stalls selling straight from the field, and it is rude not to stop and sample the different varieties that ripen over the short season.
Can something so delicious actually be good for you?
Sweet cherries are rich in vitamin C and potassium and apparently contain 16 antioxidants, which help fight cardiovascular disease and arthritis. It is the compound anthocyanin that gives cherries their lovely deep colour, itself an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory. Cherries can help people suffering from gout as well. It seems the juice helps prevent the build up of Uric acid crystals which causes the pain suffered by those with gout.
Cherries have a low glycaemic index, which means they only produce a mild rise in blood sugar levels and have only 54 cal/100 grams and virtually no fat.
My favourite is the large late black cherry which really fills the mouth with lovely sweet flavour. The first variety picked is Kordia, generally towards the end of the first week of July. This is followed by a succession of varieties like Colney, Penny, Sweetheart and Regina. These varieties are usually planted on the latest most reliable and consistent Gisela series rootstocks.
The mixture of weather since blossom time this year was pretty ideal growing conditions for cherries, on the warm side with enough sunshine and enough heavy downpours to make all the trees and cherries look very lush and healthy.
They are all now safely netted against birds which is a eco-friendly way of protecting them. It does look a little odd when you see whole fields sporting a hair net though.
The best way to eat cherries is straight from the tree, and some local orchards rent out cherry trees by the year. They send you email updates on the tree’s progress, invite you to walk through the trees in full blossom and finally to pick and picnic under your tree on a feast of cherries. Visit www.rentacherrytree.co.uk for more details.
When there is such an abundant crop as this year one has to get inventive to think of ways to keep them and eat them, no hardship there!
Here is a recipe I adapted from a classic clafoutis, which is a Greek pastry-free tart, or as my son said a sort of sweet cherry omelette. It’s good for gluten free, and whilst you can use cows milk I used almond milk in this one for added almond flavour and less lactose.
If like me you are ideas-rich and time-poor, this is a great one to knock up and serve in 45 mins flat! These cherries came from the fields opposite Sissinghurst Castle, and would have been there in Vita Sackville-West’s day.
Marian’s Cherry Clafoutis
- Butter or lactose free equivalent to grease the pan.
- 25g gluten free or normal flour, plus a shake to dust the dish or pan.
- 50g ground almonds.
- 3 eggs – our free range hens eat grass so give a lovely deep yellow yolk.
- 100g sugar.
- 1 dessert spoon almond extract.
- Pinch of salt.
- 250ml almond milk.
- 450g sweet dessert cherries, stoned (or not, if you are brave).
- Icing sugar to dust.
- Crème fraîche, frozen yoghurt or sorbet to serve.
Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5. Butter and flour an ovenproof dish or a frying pan (about 24cm) with a detachable handle.
Whisk the eggs in a large bowl, add the sugar, almond extract and salt, and then add the flour and ground almonds, followed by the almond milk.
Pour a layer of the mixture into the ovenproof dish or pan, cover with the cherries and then pour over the remaining mixture.
Bake in the middle of the preheated oven for about 30 minutes, until it is puffed and golden-brown.
Remove the clafoutis from the oven and allow it to cool a little. Turn it out on to a plate or serve straight from the dish.
Dust the clafoutis with icing sugar. Serve warm immediately, or from the fridge the next day.
With thanks to the Kent cherry growers, and to the hens!