Sour Cherries

You may remember last summer, when I staged at WD-50.  What I didn’t tell you was that I rushed home for cherries.  Not just any cherries, Montmorency sour cherries, picked fresh from a tree in my neighborhood, by one of my favorite people on the planet, Iris.

Iris came over with the cherries, and her parents, she’s only 4 after all.  And her dad brought with him two more friends, Lara, and Neil.

We spent the afternoon making treats with the cherries, a goat cheese panna cotta with sweet pickled cherries, zeppolle with a sour cherry sauce for dipping, and a clafouti with an attempt at cherry pit ice cream.

The attempt failed when I took my chilled base out to churn, and looked in my freezer for the bowl to my counter top ice cream maker.  It was not frozen, and my base was not to be ice cream that day.  But all was not lost, we dipped zeppolle in the cherry pit infused custard as well.

I must argue for this clafouti batter.  This was the batter I learned clafouti with, blind to the fact that it is a bit nontraditional.  Where as most batters are just that, batters that sink a bit below the fruit, and bake into a custardy pancake, this batter contains whipped egg whites and cream, and soufflees above the fruit a bit, light and creamy, and unforgettable.   We kept it on the menu at Lampreia for as long as there was fresh fruit to sit below, which in Seattle means about 6 months out of the year.

The cherry pits ice cream, I must argue as well.  With trace amounts of cyanide, eating a handful of cherry pits is not something I would advise.  However, cracking them and infusing them into cream releases an amazing potent flavor, reliant on the flavor molecule benzaldahyde which is found in bitter almonds, apricot pits, peach pits, and regular cherry pits, and is responsible for what we consider, “fake” almond flavoring.  If you have ever wondered why an almond in no way tastes like almond flavor, it’s due to the fact that almond flavor is extracted from bitter almonds, not the kind we eat out of hand.

I didn’t write about it because Matthew, Iris’s dad did.  He wrote, Lara photographed, and finally Gourmet published it online!  So take a quick trip over to, and read about our day in detail.  The clafouti recipe is published, along with the pickled sour cherries.  Following is the goat cheese panna cotta recipe, which is pictured covered with pickled sour cherries, and the cherry pit ice cream, which was replaced with vanilla for the day, delicious no doubt, but not quite the same.

Goat Cheese Panna Cotta

3 cups cream

8 oz goat cheese, at room temp

1 cup milk

½ cup sugar

Salt to taste

1 envelope powdered gelatin, bloomed in 3 tbsp water

  1. Bring the milk and sugar to a simmer and add the bloomed gelatin. Remove from heat and stir until the gelatin is completely dissolved.
  2. Warm the goat cheese slightly to soften, and mix the cream and goat cheese in a blender until the mixture is smooth and even. Taste the mixture and add salt to your liking. Strain in the warm milk/gelatin, and spin until the mixture is even.
  3. Pour the panna cotta mixture into molds, ramekins, pyrex custard cups, or pretty little teacups you may also collect from rummage sales.
  4. Chill these for 6 hours.

Cherry Pit Ice Cream

3 cups cream

1 cup milk

1 cup sugar

6 egg yolks

The pits 50 to 70 cherries

  1. Crack the pits open and extract the kernel inside, discarding the hard shell. I do this by folding them inside a dishtowel and hitting them with a hammer, or the back of a small heavy pot.
  2. In a food processor, pulse the sugar with the kernels until the kernels are fine. Alternately, chop them with a knife, then mix with the sugar.
  3. In a medium saucepan with a heavy bottom, bring the cream and milk to a boil and stir in the cherry pit sugar. Remove the cream from the heat and allow to steep for an hour, longer if you want a more intense flavor, and bring it back up to temperature before adding to the eggs. Strain this mixture through a fine mesh strainer before adding to the eggs.
  4. Whisk one third of the hot cherry pit cream into the eggs, and return this mixture to the pot of cream, stirring with a heatproof rubber spatula.
  5. Cook this over a medium heat stirring constantly until the mixture thickens and reaches 170 degrees and thickens.
  6. Immediately chill this over an ice bath. When the ice cream base is cooled, transfer to a storage container and refrigerate over night, allowing the flavors to marry.
  7. Churn in an ice cream maker according to the manufacturers directions.

7 Responses to “Sour Cherries”

  1. How strange! I literally just came from Matthew’s site to yours. I thought for a second that there was a preseason surge in cherry interest!

    What a small world it is even in the blogosphere!

  2. AJ says:

    I know the emphasis is on sour cherries…but you do mention other pits. Are the kernels of all of them suitable for ice cream/sauce making? Which ones have you made in the past? Have you infused the kernel flavor in the the fruit themselves? Sounds like a great way to extract even more flavor.

  3. Matthew says:

    I can try and answer this one. Cherry pits, apricot pits, peach pits, and stones of other fruits in the _Prunus_ genus all taste very similar, like bitter almonds. (Bitter almonds are, in fact, a fruit in the _Prunus_ genus.) They can be used interchangeably in cooking–with emphasis on the cooking, since they are poisonous raw.

    Cherry pits taste completely different from cherries, though the flavors are complementary.

  4. AJ says:

    Ah, so the pits will provide mostly bitter almond notes vs. the flavors of the fruit from which it came? Thanks for the response Matthew…and for the reminder about cooking the pits.

  5. Tracy says:

    Hi There,
    I live in Mew England (MA to be exact,) and I have searched high and low for sour cherries. There was an orchard near where I grew up as a young child, but unfortunately it is no longer there. I have such fond memories of sour cherry pie, and nothing in my mind beats it. Does anyone know who might ship sour cherries? I found your name on the internet and I’m hoping you can help me out. I know they aren’t quite in season yet, but I would give anything to get my hands on several quarts of them.

    Thanks in advance for your time and troubles.


  6. dana says:

    I Tracy

    I am sorry to say I do not have the information you are looking for. I know sour cherries are sold frozen from many smaller local farms that produce fruit for whole sale, and this might be the case in your neck of the woods. But fresh sour cherries are so fragile that they rarely make it home from the farmers market before they start to bruise, and if not used within a few days they begin to perish. So I am not confident that many sources will ship fresh sour cherries. I would suggest asking someone with experience sourcing produce in your area, like a high end restaurant, or specialty grocer.

  7. Nicki Smith says:

    Note to Tracy:

    I get my sour cherries from Hotchkiss Food Coop in Hotchkiss, CO. They’re divine and reasonably priced. Call them at 970-872-7737. They have a supply of 9# and 28# frozen sour cherries. I payed $45 for the 28#. Maybe they can ship them Fed Ex or maybe you’ll be visiting Colorado soon and can pick them up.

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