We’re just entering what might be the most delectably bountiful time of the year as spring turns into summer and what I think of as happy produce comes into season. I mean the stuff that truly puts a smile on your face on a sultry day. The slice of ice cold watermelon with sweet juice that dribbles down your chin. Stone fruit that sings with sugar—and is especially wonderful in pies and cobblers. Corn on the cob that doesn’t even need to be cooked. Day-glo summer squash that I like to grate and make pancakes with. Tomatoes. No need to say anything about the joy of summer tomatoes.
This week my eye is on cherries, which, yes, are considered a stone fruit. I found four varieties of cherries this week at Specialty Produce. Now you may be used to seeing Bings and the Raniers I plucked today. But Specialty Produce’s Dana Chaldekas introduced me to three other varieties you’ve got to try. And, sure you can nosh on them raw, but consider any of them for an easy clafoutis, ice cream, sauces that are just as perfect over angel food cake or in a crepe as over pork, duck or chicken. Jam them, pie them, add them to fruit salad. Just enjoy them now! They’re all $7 a pound at Specialty Produce.
These dark, glossy red cherries from Murray Family Farms in Bakersfield, have a pretty red flesh, not unlike the Bing. Sweet but not cloyingly so. They’re a hybrid of Burlat and Rainer varieties, great for eating out of hand, but terrific with savory ingredients like arugula, pine nuts, bacon, and tuna. They won’t last long, so get to them quickly once you get them home.
Sequoia cherries are a little brighter red and larger than the Brooks. Also from Murray Family Farms, they too have a light red flesh, but a complex sweet-tart flavor and they’re very juicy. Snacking is probably their best use, but pair them raw with burrata cheese, dark chocolate, berries, mint, and yogurt. They’re even good for jamming.
These deeply dark giant cherries, again from Murray Family Farms, are like none you’ve ever eaten. With just the right balance of sugar and acidity and plenty of juice, you probably won’t have any left over from addictively snacking to do any cooking with them. But if you can, these would make a beautiful jam or sauce—or clafoutis.
Rainiers may be the most distinctive of the cherry varieties due to their multi-colored skin of pink and red with a blush of gold. Also unlike the other varieties here, their flesh is yellow, sometimes with red streaks near the pit. These Rainiers are from Frog Hollow Farm in Brentwood, Calf. (not that Brentwood; there’s one in Northern California). They can be a little acidic, but when they are at peak ripeness, sweet and mellow. Add these stunners to a fruit or cheese plate of fresh chevre, burrata, or aged cheeses to show them off. Pit them and mix together with basil, cilantro, mint, or oregano, perhaps some fruity olive oil, and chopped chiles to create a sauce for grilled pork chops or chicken. They’re also perfect for baking in pies, cakes, and tarts.