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Cherries in Pastis
Fresh cherries with the flavors of Provence
I used to be one of those people who wondered about those who said things like, “I have too many raspberries. What do I do with them?” Or, “My lemon tree is bursting with fruit—help!!”
To me, it’s unimaginable to have too much fruit. Even worse, when you live somewhere where avocados, apricots, or citrons are precious or expensive, it’s hard to feel sympathy for people who have too many.
So I was excited (to be one of those people?) when we moved into our new apartment and had raspberry bushes in the yard. I had imagined myself being immersed in making raspberry jam, raspberry tarts, and raspberry sorbet…until as soon as they ripened, the birds came in and swooped all the berries away. (They’re not stupid.)
So this year, we got smarter than them and put netting over the bushes, which is helping. (Well—us, anyways…) And these raspberries* taste nothing like the ones that come in plastic clamshell packaging, which unfortunately, can make anyone forget what a real raspberry tastes like, including me.
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I can brag about our fig tree, though, and the birds are kind enough to leave a good portion of the fruit for us (which I turn into fig-pineapple jam). I think they fill up on the figs at the very top that are out of our reach, which they’re welcome to have, and leave the lower hanging fruit for us mortals. From the looks of things, there are going to be a lot of figs in our future this summer.
Once summer hits in Paris, which is happening, the prices of cherries and apricots drop precipitously (and fantastically), and there’s so much fruit at the markets that it’s hard to know what to do with it all.
Cherries are something I’m particularly fond of, and thankfully, despite their short season, they keep remarkably well in the freezer, if you’ve got space. So I make cherry compote and cherries in red wine and freeze those, as well as cherry jam. You can freeze whole raw cherries but with limited freezer space, compotes make the best use of that space. (Compotes are also good if the cherries aren’t in the best shape or don’t have the best flavor. Cooking coaxes the flavor out of them. They’re also good because you get a lot of delicious juice, which is a bonus and extends their goodness even further.)
So while I’m trying to go through as many cherries as possible right now, and trying to explain to Romain why we should get a second freezer (so I can be one of those people who brags about freezing cakes and stock and huge amounts of seasonal fruit), I was happy to come across a new recipe for using cherries, which uses…pastis.
As I mentioned in Drinking French, I’m not a big fan of pastis, although a former barman in Paris told me to try it with cold sparkling water, which I did, and it was a revelation. It changed the whole drink.
Of course, that’s going rogue with pastis, which is traditionally served with still water. When I Googled “pastis” and “eau gazeuse,” an entry from a French Catholic online forum was the first search result, and in response to someone who tried it, they were deemed un hérétique grave, a serious heretic. So I guess it’s best to drink it at your own risk, knowing there’s a possibility that you may have to answer to a higher power.
On the other hand, Pernod isn’t pastis, which I learned when I was writing Drinking French. Because I didn’t want to print anything in a book that wasn’t true, during some back-and-forths with a representative from the company, she wrote me back, emphatically, in ALL CAPS, that Pernod isn’t pastis because it has no licorice. Pastis is flavored with anise, but licorice is an essential ingredient.
However, when I was writing about it just now, I checked and the Pernod-Ricard website says that Pernod has a “low licorice content, which sets it apart from pastis.” I had a moment of panic that I got it wrong. I happened to have lunch with a friend who worked for the company for twenty years, who told me that Pernod is not pastis.
The great thing about pastis is that it adds a lovely bouquet of flavors to fruit that’s reminiscent of Provence, no matter where you are, even in Paris, where I was having dinner at Jennifer McLagan’s apartment…
…and for dessert, she emerged from the kitchen with a big, juicy bowl of cherries for dessert, which she poached in pastis.
Now that I’m more open-minded about the drink, I was happy to see—and taste—how well it went with cherries. As the author of a whole book on Fat, Jennifer (of course…) served it with a scoop of nutty, rich crème fraîche, which was delicious. But I had some vanilla ice cream on hand, and the cherries were excellent with that as well.
If you’re lucky enough to have fresh cherries, this compote is a great way to use them. And in case our cherry tree ever produces any cherries, I hope to have more cherries than I know what to do with—not just the single one that showed up about a month ago and dropped off (or was carried away), never to be seen again.
Cherries in Pastis
Adapted from Sardine by Alex Jackson
Even if you’re not a pastis fan, using it here will surprise you, as it did me. If you have another anise-flavored liqueur on hand, such as anisette, ouzo, or raki, I’m sure it’d work well here. Any kind of sweet cherries will be fine in this recipe. While I love sour cherries, they’re fragile and will break down too much during cooking so if you want to use them, I’d suggest a mix of sweet and sour.
1/2 cup (125ml) pastis
1/2 cup (125ml) water
1/4 cup (50g) sugar
1 sprig fresh thyme
1 small strip lemon zest
1 pound (450g) cherries, stemmed and pitted
In a medium saucepan, bring the pastis, water, sugar, thyme, and lemon zest to a boil.
Add the cherries and reduce the heat to a gentle, low boil. Simmer until the cherries are tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. The cooking time will vary depending on the variety and ripeness of the cherries.
Remove from heat and let cool before serving.
Do-Ahead: These cherries get better and improve if made a day or two in advance. Store the cherries in the refrigerator. The compote can also be frozen.
*Update: I had a pretty good raspberry harvest yesterday morning…
…not enough for jam or sorbet, but yielding enough to garnish our morning bowls of fruit, yogurt, and homemade granola.
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