Ancient times associated cherries with virginity, representing all that was fresh and new. Since they are the first ripening fruits of spring, this could be the reason we refer to sweet and special things as being in “cherry condition.” Brooks and Berlats grace farmers markets tables with their juicy, scarlet presence. Soon enough, special appearances will be made by the stars of the popular cherry show -- the Bing, Tulare, Lambert and more, habit forming and eaten as soon as the purchase is completed. If you stop eating momentarily, purchase a cherry pitter from any houseware store and continue gorging.
Reduce red wine, balsamic and pureed cherries with a bit of honey for an amazing sauce begging to be slathered on grilled vegetables or chicken, or better yet, a piece of veiny Roquefort.
Arugula and tender spinach tossed with pitted cherries, sliced cucumbers and chevre, dressed sparingly with lemon oil and rice vinegar, makes a perfect showcase for our short-seasoned friends.
Add pitted cherries to vanilla ice cream with a drizzle of pristine brandy, letting it melt a touch, allowing subtle maceration. Half spooned, half slurped — all heaven.
Also beckoning lavishly from market tables are early stone fruits — white peaches, yellow peaches and apricots with all their plum-mating permutations. Amazingly enough, these fruits are really good this early in the season, especially with all the rain and chilly weather we have been experiencing this year. Not quite at the peak-season-intoxicating stage, but a good precursor of fruits to come.
Strawberries are flowing off tables with their preciously sweet perfume causing heads to spin in search of the source. One look at those delectably red berries and all is well. More farmers are getting with the program and offering organic fruit along with varieties that have been sprayed. As more consumers eat more organic fruit, farmers will grow more. Maybe berries that were sprayed with toxins will become less popular.
Get down to your local farmers markets and voice your concerns to berry growers. You'll also be supporting farmers and communities — one of the best direct-marketing deals in produce to come along.
Martinez farmers markets are:
Thursday Court Street - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Thursday Kaiser Martinez - 10 a.m to 2 p.m.
Sunday Main Street - 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
All run by Pacific Coast Farmers Markets www.pcfma.com
Crispy Romaine Salad w/ Roasted Duck and Cherry Balsamic Drizzle
1 head romaine lettuce, medium chopped
½ cup crumbled feta cheese
¼ cup chopped green onion
½ pound roasted duck, shredded
2/3 cup Bing cherries, washed, pitted and halved
¼ cup chopped toasted local almonds
3 tablespoons good, fruity olive oil
3 tablespoons balsamic drizzle (recipe follows)
Toss lettuce, feta, green onions, duck and cherries together in a large bowl with olive oil and drizzle. Garnish with almonds. Serves 6.
Cherry Balsamic Drizzle
3 cups pureed cherries
3 cups balsamic vinegar
2 cups red wine
½ cup honey
Pour wine and balsamic vinegar into a nonreactive saucepan. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Add cherries and reduce by one third. Add honey and simmer for 5 minutes.
To this base you can add rosemary, tarragon, orange peel or crushed cranberries.
Use for a dressing on salad with olive oil or as a sauce to grilled chicken, roasted duck or vegetables. Store covered in reefer for up to 2 months.
Makes 2 cups.
Strawberry Rhubarb Pie
3 cups fresh rhubarb, cut into half-inch pieces
3 cups fresh strawberries, hulled and halved
¾ cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¼ teaspoon vanilla extract (optional)
pastry for a double crust pie
Combine strawberries, rhubarb, sugar, cornstarch, salt and extract in a large saucepan and let sit for 15 minutes. Bring mixture to a boil and stir gently until thickened. Remove from heat and let cool 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375*. Spoon filling into pastry lined pie pan. Place top crust on and crimp edges. Cover edges with strips of aluminum foil. Cut vents into top and sprinkle with 2 tablespoons of sugar. Bake 30 minutes and remove foil from edges. Bake 15 more minutes until golden brown. Cool 30 minutes before serving. Serve with vanilla ice cream.
Sweet Cherry Crumb Pie
1 prebaked 9-inch pastry shell
¼ cup flour
½ cup sugar
pinch kosher salt
6 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
½ cup raw almonds, chopped medium fine
1 tablespoon quick cooking tapioca
3 tablespoons sugar
4 ½ cherries
Preheat oven to 375*.
Prepare the topping. Mix the flour, sugar and salt together in a small bowl. Add the butter working it in quickly with the tips of your fingers. (or mix it in your food processor). Stir the almonds in by hand and set aside.
In another bowl, mix together the sugar and tapioca. Layer the cherries into your prebaked pie shell in thirds, alternating the sugar mixture with the cherries. Cover the cherries completely with the topping and press down gently.
Bake the pie on the bottom rack of the oven until the topping is golden and the juices are beginning to bubble, about 45 minutes. Remove pie from oven and let cool to room temperature before serving.