A few days back I walked into Berkeley Bowl (my absolute favorite place to buy produce) and much to my delight saw they had Balaton cherries for sale. Balaton’s are a coveted and relatively new sour variety, perfect for pies and tarts, more hardy than the heirloom Montmorency (which I have never seen except canned or frozen). I had read about about these a while back in Cook’s Illustrated magazine. Now, here before me (in the flesh, so to speak) were pounds of the very small, red, soft and juicy fruit, many still with stems and leaves. These had been grown in Idaho, not Michigan where, according to the Balaton Cherry Home Page, the cultivar had been developed in the mid 1980s. It would seem that cultivation has been spreading and now these are going to be more generally available – I do hope. (N.B: apparently the name Balaton is trademarked and should be followed by an ®. Who knew?)
My first two pounds were stoned and converted into filling for some tarts. After gorging myself these, I decided I had to try my hand at cocktail cherries (the de rigueur garnish for my favorite cocktail, The Manhattan). I had already collected the stones from the ones I pitted for the tart filling and put them into a jar with some Thomas Handy rye. I was vaguely thinking this would form the basis for some bitters this fall. I had brandied some Bing cherries last year using a recipe from The New York Times but wasn’t so impressed with the results. I was looking for something different. After a bit of quick research on the web, I decided just to wing it and put up two batches: one in a 50/50 mixture of kirsch and cognac (ala griottines) and one in rye (Rittenhouse 100). Keep it simple, let the cherries sing.
In both cases I started by macerating the pitted fruit with sugar in the ratio of one cup cherries to 1/4 cup superfine sugar. I let this mixture sit for about 30 minutes, turning it gently (these cherries are pretty soft) with a spoon until most all of the sugar was dissolved and a light syrup had formed. I then poured the mixture into a small Mason-style jar and covered with the spirits. I also added a couple of long strips of orange zest to each batch. Here’s a photo, including the jar with the stones I put up in the Handy rye:
Pretty good looking, eh? I’m not 100% sure at what point to declare these things “done” so I’m going to sample ’em every five days or so and keep some notes. I’ll report back later and let you know what I find out.
[P.S. The fake cherries on the rightmost jar came from the bottle of Kammer Black Forest kirsch I used. Not the most expensive but I’m partial to what’s made in Europe, probably because of the cherry varieties they have available to them.]