Some people tolerate their in-laws. Others dislike them. I am lucky enough to love my in-laws, and I’m not just saying that because they are faithful readers of my blog, or because my grandma and grandpa-in-law have a veritable orchard in the backyard.
Glenn and Vernie welcome un-announced visits, so when I can break away from my typical busyness, I stop by. We drink small glasses of Glenn’s homemade chokecherry wine and chit-chat about the latest trailer camping trips, potlucks, neighborly happenings, and family news.
Vernie recounts stories from the past, remembering dates and details to a t. This is the same woman who gave me a plot of her garden for two years, taught me to dig trenches around tomatoes, and put up with my crooked rows and gangly weeds. She saves and files ziploc bags, washes and re-uses jars and bottles. As her Russian-German mother said, “Vee must be save-y”. Now, re-using is the cool thing to do. Vernie and her mother were way ahead of the game.
I have my own garden now, but always look forward to visiting the yardstick-straight rows of flourishing swiss chard, and the weighed-down branches of the sour cherry tree.
I’ve read about sour cherries before. In fact, earlier this month, Melissa Clark teased me with her sour cherry pie. Saveur taunted me with a Hungarian sour cherry cake. It was all quite unbearable. Where do you people find these hypothetical sour cherries, anyways? I was about to resort to whining and foot stomping, but then…
My favorite taste tester and I went to dinner at his grandparents house. That’s right. The afore-mentioned grandparents who just happen to have a sour cherry tree in the backyard. How had I never noticed this after two years of gardening in a patch of dirt ten feet away?
Well, it’s not entirely my fault. Vernie said that normally, the robins eat all of the cherries, but this year was different. The leaves drooped over-top of the cherries, so the robins couldn’t see them. Sure enough, upon closer look, the underside of each drooping branch held more shiny red beads than a flapper-girl out for a night on the town.
Glenn said, “You can pick some if you want. We’ve already got plenty. You might get enough to make something…” And so I did…With one of those trying not to smile, but smiling anyways smiles.
And I made a crisp…with a crispy walnut, oat and brown sugar topping, just sweet enough to compliment the tartness of the cherries.
You may not find them today, or maybe not even at your weekly farmers market. May you stumble upon them in the midst of chit-chat with family, friends, and neighbors…as a pleasant surprise…a cherry on top.
Sour Cherry Walnut Crisp
I bought a shiny new cherry pitter, and found that it will not pit small sour cherries. My brother-in-law Nathan told me that a small (clean) paperclip does the job quite nicely. Sure enough, if you push the curved end of the paperclip into the cherry, you’ll easily scoop out the pit (and save yourself a few extra bucks).
- 2 lb sour cherries, washed, stemmed, and pitted (about 4 cups after pitting)
- 2/3 cup granulated sugar
- 2 1/2 TB tapioca pearls, ground into a powder in a spice grinder or coffee grinder
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 cup rolled oats
- 3/4 cup walnuts
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt (decrease salt slightly if using table salt or sea salt)
- 6 tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Preheat the oven to 375˚f
Make the filling:
Stir the cherries, sugar, tapioca and salt together in a medium bowl and set aside.
Make the topping:
Grind 1/2 cup of the walnuts with 3/4 cup rolled oats in a food processor. Transfer to a medium bowl. Add the remainder of the oats, flour, cinnamon, sugar and salt. Whisk to combine. Mix in the butter with a pastry blender, or with your hands, until it reaches a crumbly, coarse meal texture.
Put it all together:
Stir the cherries to re-coat with the sugar mixture. Place in a well-buttered pie pan, or split between smaller baking dishes, such as ramekins. Add the crisp topping in a layer over the cherries. Chop the remaining walnuts, and sprinkle over top.
Bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until the top is golden and crispy, and the fruit is bubbling.