I think I have something wrong with me. I seem to be afflicted with a particular malady that forces me to buy way too many summer fruits when they’re in season. It gets particularly dire when faced with apricots and cherries, two fruits whose seasons are much shorter than the others. The first fresh apricots I saw were back in upstate New York, around the 1980s, and I’d never seen them before. Someone brought us a basket of the tender, squishy little orange fruits to the restaurant that I worked at, and I remember being completely taken off guard, as the only apricots I’d ever seen were the dried ones. And while I loved the crinkly dried specimens, those fresh beauties with a red blush were a whole other taste entirely.
Then, when I moved to California, I discovered how abundant fresh apricots are (or can be), as they are in France. But no matter how abundant – or not – cherries are when the season is in full swing, I always consider them extra-special fruits and give a prominent place in my kitchen. At the beginning of the season, they’re incredibly expensive and rarely good. Then, as the season moves along, they start showing up in larger mounds at the market, and the prices get gentler, coaxing me to buy as many as I can heft.
This week, I was helpless when faced with an overload of summer fruits at the market. And in addition to a giant bag of apricots, two bulging sacks of tomatoes, and eight white nectarines, I bought 2 kilos (about 4 1/2 pounds, give or take a few cherries) of fresh cherries — and from the looks of the other shoppers, it was more than any normal person would buy. (Although I think I made the vendor’s day.) But I couldn’t help it. They were Burlat cherries and I’d bought a small bag from the same vendor last week at the market, and there he was again, tempting me with more. Once I got home, I got my cherry pitter out, and pitted half of them, saving the others to eat fresh. (Except I almost polished off the fresh ones I was reserving as I was pitting these!)
Fresh cherries are, of course, great fresh. But cooking them can deepen, and even improve their flavor, especially nice if you get home and find yourself with a bag of rather wan ones. Or ones that you might snag at the end of the market, when the vendors are trying to get rid of any extras that might not keep until the next market day.
In addition to being the answer to what the heck you (or I) are going to do with all those cherries, this recipe also deftly answers that age-old question: Can I freeze that? And the answer is a big, resounding, “Heck, yeah!” Once the compote has cooled, it freezes perfectly in zip-top freezer bags or other containers that you prefer to use, and will last up to a year. (You can also freeze pitted fresh cherries on their own as well.)
And let me tell you, it’s great to stumble upon a bag of cherry compote that may have moved to an unfavorable position in your freezer as summer shifted into fall – or winter, when they can become quickly forgotten. Once defrosted, and perhaps rewarmed, they’re terrific served with vanilla ice cream, plain yogurt, or alongside a cake, such as almond cake, gâteau de savoie, or angel food cake.
I like to boost their flavor with a handful of dried sour cherries, added midway during cooking, so they plump up and absorb the cherry juices, which add another dimension of cherry flavor. A shot of kirsch also dials up the flavor nicely.