It has not been a particularly good year for our cherry trees. One of the two sweet cherries, which gave us an absolute bumper crop last July, has been struck by what appears to be a nasty combination of fruit drop and cherry blackfly. The tree stands curly leafed and forlorn, surrounded by shrivelled fruits that have fallen from its branches and now litter the orchard floor. All of its tiny crop of surviving cherries were snaffled by the squirrels as soon as they started to blush red.
The spindly acid cherry tree had a rough start to the season too. Not only inflicted with the same problems as the sweet cherry, it has another issue of its own. During a particularly windy night, a huge branch of the tree was blown off, splitting the whole of the main trunk in half as it fell. Amazingly, the rest of the tree has remained standing firm and, despite the gaping wound of ochre-red wood, a few cherries are clinging on and ripening. Perhaps enough for a sugar-dusted pie.
Luckily, the other sweet cherry has faired better. It has mostly steered clear of the fruit drop problem, and a collection of blue tits have helped keep the blackfly at bay. As such, there are a good few bowlfuls of healthy cherries clutching on to the branches. They are on the cusp of ripening to perfection, and we have ladder and bowl at the ready.
In the meantime, we turn to the wild cherry tree on the edge of the paddock. Most of its arching branches are well out of our reach, but we are able to collect a tubful of its lower hanging fruits to bring into the kitchen. The wild cherries are slightly sweet and slightly sour, and more pip than flesh. After a quick destalking and a wash in the sink, we throw them into a saucepan with a generous splash of water, bring to a simmer, and give the cherries a good squash with the end of a rolling pin to encourage them to spill their juices into the pan. A strain (and a bit of a squish with the back of a spoon) through a wire mesh sieve leaves us with a jugful of tart and almondy (more so for leaving the stones in during cooking) wild cherry juice. Shaken with amaretto, lemon juice, bitters and lots of ice, it makes the perfect summer cocktail in which to drown this year’s cultivated cherry sorrows.
Wild Cherry Sour
- 100 ml wild cherry juice (see note below)
- 50 ml freshly squeezed lemon juice
- 50 ml amaretto
- 8 drops of Angostura bitters
- a drizzle of sugar syrup (to taste)
- 2 wild cherries, stalks on (optional)
To make the wild cherry juice for this cocktail: put the cherries in a saucepan (destalked but unstoned), add a generous splash of water and bring to a gentle simmer. As the cherries are cooking, use the end of a rolling pin or a potato masher to squash them and encourage them to spill their juices into the pan. Pour the cherries through a fine mesh sieve or jelly bag, squeezing out as much of the juice as you can, but leaving pips and pulp behind. Set aside to cool. It will keep for a couple of days in the fridge, or can be frozen until needed. Note: we picked 450g wild cherries, which made us 150ml juice.
Put all of the ingredients into a cocktail shaker (or a large glass jar with the lid on) along with a handful of ice cubes and shake vigorously until beads of condensation form on the outside of the glass/metal. Strain into glasses and serve immediately (with an extra cherry on top to garnish if you wish).
We are always extra careful when foraging ingredients for cooking. We never pick anything that we can’t identify and, if unsure, we consult the advice of our guide books. We particularly like the River Cottage handbooks, by John Wright, who pens his words in a way that is easy to understand, knowledgeable, and full of good humour. River Cottage Handbook Number 7: Hedgerow, covers wild cherry identification.