Last year, I completely missed cherry season. This year, I thought it might never arrive.
It’s always a special occasion at our home when a jar of homemade pickles is opened. Not that we’re ceremonious about it mind you, but opening a jar of something delicious and unique that’s been stored away in a larder just makes a meal with friends more convivial, adding luster to the whatever else is on the table.
My recipe is based on Helen Witty’s, out of her book, The Fancy Pantry. Picnic lover, Tara Austen Weaver recommended it to me, I recommend it to you. It’s one of my favorite cookbooks to read and plot from.
Pickling cherries wasn’t something I’d have thought of until reading this book. They caught my Francophile interest as they are traditionally served as counter-point with patés and charcuterie, something I’ve also been trying my hand at. I make mine with Lapin cherries, one of the later cherries in Washington and usually firmer than the far more ubiquitous Bings. I’ve never eaten these in France, but the few times I’ve seen them around town, they’re usually small, dry and shriveled, more like a Niçoise olive.
These are plump and juicy and the tarragon adds just a hint of anise and depth to the sweet cherries. You’ll love them.
Helen Witty’s Tart Pickled Charries in the French Style, as tweaked by Knox
1 pound ripe, but firm Bing, Lambert, other sweet cherries. (If you see Lapins, you’ll love them)
5-6 sprigs fresh tarragon.
2 cups high-quality white wine vinegar
1/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons fine non-iodized salt (if you have iodized salt, throw it out or kill slugs with it)
1. Clean your cherries and make sure none have soft spots, mold, blemishes. That ruins your pickles. Helen clips the stems so you can eat them like a little cute snack, but I dislike having to spit out pits, so I pit the cherries, which is a snap if you have a simple cherry pitter.
2. Rinse and dry your tarragon sprigs and put them in clean, sterilized canning jars (how? here…). Then add the cherries, leaving about 1/2 inch of room at the top. Helen puts all of her cherries in one large quart jar, but I like to make mine in wide mouth pint jars so that I’ve got a few to share and it’s still a decent amount for gorging if you’re hosting a small dinner. While the fresh tarragon is lovely, I know that not everyone is lucky enough to have it in their garden. You can not use dried tarragon here, so I’d recommend dropping in a few star anise pods in its place. I’ve tried it and think it’s awesome.
3. Stir together the vinegar, sugar and salt and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. You then need to let this liquid cool.
4. Pour the liquid over the cherries and then seal the jar. I then process this in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes.
5. After 10 minutes, the jars come out, and should be sealed as they cool. You’ll need to wait at least a month for them to pickle and develop their flavor.
I’ve used this approach to preserve sliced plums, also weepingly delicious…but with plums I’d recommend playing with a bit more spice (cardamon, star anise, peppercorns) and adding a bit more sugar so that you end up with an edible syrup as well.