The Cherry on Top

Stephanie McClenny and Whole Foods Market celebrate the cherry

I cannot tell a lie: I love me some cherries.

While I try to stick with local, seasonal produce as much as possible, “local” goes out the window during cherry season. When those deep-red Washington state beauties land in the grocery stores in July, plentiful and affordable, it’s game over: I’m knee-deep in cherries until the season ends and I’m left waiting for July to roll again.

Most of the time, I don’t even bother cooking with cherries, save for the occasional pie. I usually just eat them like popcorn, shoveling them in with abandon, slowed only by the stems and pits. This year, though, heralds a new era, one in which I deploy cherries for a higher purpose than mere afternoon snacking at my desk. Thanks to a cherry preserving class taught by Stephanie McClenny of confituras and hosted by Whole Foods Market at the Domain, I learned on a Sunday afternoon how to give new and lasting life to my favorite summer fruit.

Stephanie McClenny drops some preserving knowledge at Whole Foods Domain. (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

McClenny, whose line of locally sourced and produced artisanal jams and jellies will appear on local Whole Foods shelves come fall, doesn’t usually work in cherries (not being a Texas crop and all), but the recipes she shared were delicious nonetheless. I was particularly enamored of the sweet-tart pickled Ranier cherries, of which I made two jars (one to share, one to hoard in my fridge to enjoy with cheese and charcuterie come October).

With the onset of Whole Foods’ 5th annual Cherry Fest this weekend, you can stock up enough fruit in order to try those pickled Raniers (recipe below), or maybe some tiny cherry pies with tarragon, grilled salmon with cherry couscous, or fresh cherry limeade. There will also be samples of cherry-forward dishes in each department, plus a “pit stop” for shoppers who don’t want to fuss with removing pits at home.

Pickled Ranier cherries (Photo by Melanie Haupt)

Pickled Ranier Cherries (recipe courtesy of Stephanie McClenny and Whole Foods Market)

1 pound Ranier cherries, pitting optional
2 cups white wine vinegar
1 1/4 cup sugar
pinch kosher salt
1 small bunch tarragon or Mexican mint marigold, rinsed and divided
2 tablespoons pink peppercorns, divided

In a medium saucepan, place vinegar, sugar, salt, a few sprigs of the tarragon or Mexican mint marigold, and 1 tablespoon of the peppercorns. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and allow to simmer just long enough for the sugar and salt to dissolve, about a minute or two. Remove from heat and allow to cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, rinse cherries, discarding any with noticeable blemishes — no need to pit them. Trim cherry stems to about 1/2 inch and load cherries into clean glass jars. Slip a few blades of tarragon down the sides of the jars and top with 10-12 peppercorns.

Pour the brine over the cherries, filling with enough to cover them. Place lid and refrigerate for several days before reopening so the flavors have a chance to penetrate the fruit. Keeps refrigerated for up to a year.

Disclosure: In addition to the items I made in the preserving class at Whole Foods, I received a complimentary pound of cherries and a $15 Whole Foods gift card for ingredients. Opinions are my own.

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