By Brenda Clough
It’s summer! And local fruits are finally in, at least in the Mid-Atlantic. We have all the berries your vitamin-C-starved heart could desire: strawberries, raspberries, blueberries, currants and cherries. The earliest peaches and apricots are making their appearance at the farm market, along with rhubarb and those fruits-manque, tomatoes.
Foods and eating are such a writerish thing, too. Our characters and created worlds need food and cuisine and an entire rotation of seasonal fruits and vegetables. There are entire classes of fantasy races and personages who you might not wish to live with, work with, or share a neighborhood with — but you really want to dine with them. Hobbits come immediately to mind, or going to dinner at Miles Vorkosigan’s house.
So we are starting up a series about food. And recipes! I just spent half an hour pitting a quart of pie cherries, and this is how I propose to use them:
Sour Cherry Tart
1 stick butter
pinch salt, if the butter is unsalted
1 1/3 cup flour
Put the flour into the bowl of a food processor. Cut the butter up into chunks and throw it in with the salt, if you use it. Process until the butter is no longer easily visible. Slowly add the ice water until the dough just begins to clump. Scrape it all out onto a sheet of plastic wrap, wrap it up and squeeze it into a flat ball, and stick it in the fridge for a couple hours.
1 quart pie cherries
1/2 cup sugar
1/4 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup cornstarch
While it is chilling, pit the cherries and turn the oven on to 400 degrees. A small pointy knife will do for pitting, if you don’t have a cherry pitter. Mix the fruit with all the other ingredients in a bowl. Roll the dough out between two sheets of plastic wrap, and ease it into a tart pan. Spread the fruit in it, put the tart pan onto a cookie sheet, and pop into the oven for an hour, or until the crust is very brown.
Achieving a crisp bottom crust is taxing, for tarts with extremely juicy fruit like cherries. I have had good luck with a thin-gauged tart pan (the kind with a removable bottom) set onto a pizza stone. Preheat the stone in the oven before you bake. If the fruit is just impossibly juicy I have not scrupled to drain the cherries in a strainer, and then boil the juice down a bit before adding it back in and baking the tart. I bring this tart to July 4th parties; attendees have learned to follow me in and grab a slice fast, before it all vanishes.
My newest novel Speak to Our Desires is out exclusively from Book View Press.