We have had a bumper cherry crop this year. The two trees in the orchard have been so laden with fruit that their branches have arched and drooped with the weight of the hefty bunches. The ruby cherries, speckled with flecks of pale orange and yellow, are beautifully sweet, and full of juice. As the trees are too tall for us to reach the top of, and aren’t netted or contained within a fruit cage, we split the harvest with the local blackbird population and a rather tubby pair of squirrels, who are able to access the uppermost branches with ease. The chickens too are big cherry fans and they have worked out how to reach the lower hanging fruits via a series of perching spots from their pen. And the geese, who adore cherries (perhaps almost as much as they love apples), make a beeline for the trees every morning to squabble over any windfalls.
The feathery gaggle can make cherry picking a little tricky. The geese stand on their tip toes, pull at our clothes with their beaks, and do all they can to get our attention, in the hope that we’ll pass them a cherry or two. If that doesn’t work, they jump up and try grabbing the cherries out of our hands before we can put them in the bowl. It is most entertaining. The geese are feeling a little bit sorry for themselves at moment (they are in moult and shedding their feathers at a rate of knots), but a handful of cherries each seems to cheer them up no end, so we don’t mind sharing.
This week we have picked bowlful after bowlful of the juicy red fruits and have set about putting them to good use. Sat at the kitchen table, radio on, mug of tea on the side, we have halved and pitted hundreds of them for the dehydrator. A big glass jar of dried cherries, that will hopefully last us through to next year, now sits proudly on the larder shelf. We’ve also frozen a few tubs and, of course, we’ve eaten fistfuls of them fresh from the tree. It feels like a very special thing to have cherries in such abundance and we really want to make the most of them.
We’ve also made a fair few cherry clafoutis with the blushing fruits. After several experiments and variations, we’ve now settled on our favourite recipe. For the batter, we gently infuse whole milk with cinnamon and vanilla, both of which pair beautifully with the almondy cherries. This method brings soft background spice to the finished dish, but lets the cherries take the lead role. The geese are still giving us the occasional egg (despite the laying season ending in May – they obviously didn’t get the memo), so our preference is to use goose egg in the batter. The higher yolk to white ratio of the goose eggs, brings a lovely richness. In the absence of a goose egg, we use two chicken eggs, plus an extra yolk to create the same effect. As a general rule, clafoutis is eaten warm as a dessert, but we like to eat it cold for brunch, accompanied by a mug of strong coffee. On a warm summer morning, breakfast under the shade of the cherry trees, eating the fruits they provided, really does seem like a perfect way to start the day.
Cherry, Vanilla and Cinnamon Clafoutis
- 450 g cherries
- 175 ml whole milk
- 1 vanilla pod
- 2 small cinnamon sticks
- 50 g butter, melted (plus a little extra for greasing)
- 100 g caster sugar
- 1 goose egg (or 2 chicken eggs plus one extra chicken egg yolk)
- 50 g plain flour
Pre-heat the oven to 200°C.
Half the vanilla pod, scrape out the seeds and put them in a small saucepan, along with the pod, cinnamon sticks and milk. Put the pan on a medium heat and warm the milk until bubbles begin to form at the sides. Remove from the heat, then leave to cool and to continue infusing for at least 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, grease a shallow dish (we use an enamel roasting tin that measures 30cm x 23cm) with a little butter. Half and pit the cherries and add them to the dish.
In a large jug or bowl, whisk the melted butter together with the caster sugar and goose egg (or chicken eggs and extra yolk). Sift and then whisk in the flour. Remove the vanilla pod and cinnamon sticks from the milk and whisk the infusion into the bowl.
Pour the resulting batter over the top of the cherries and pop in the oven to cook for around 30 minutes until set and patched golden.
Dust with a little icing sugar if you wish, then spoon into bowls and eat warm, or leave to cool and then cut into slices to serve.