One sure sign of summer in Idaho – cherries are in season. These delicious little fruits are important to Idaho’s economy, and a favorite in Idaho’s menus.
Garden Master Jim Duthie shows us the variety of cherries that are available right now, and cooks up some tasty treats with another Idaho favorite, Chef Lou Aaron.
There’s an old saying that goes, ‘Life is like a bowl of cherries!’ And right now, cherries are in season. Cherries are a commercial industry in parts of southwest Idaho, especially in Gem County, where the Cherry Festival was held last week. Cherries are also a favorite among many backyard fruit growers.
Cherries come in lots of varieties: bright red tart cherries, sometimes called pie cherries; sweet and colorful Rainiers; crimson Bings, deep burgundy Hudson cherries, and dozens of others. They ripen anytime from May to August.
Our KTVB photographer Troy Colson grew these Queen Anne cherries in his backyard and had a bumper crop this year. Queen Anne cherries, also known as Royal Anne, or Napoleon cherries, are popular as chocolate covered cordial cherries. They look a lot like Rainiers, but they’re a little more tart, while Rainiers are sweeter.
And speaking of cherries, we’ve brought my friend Chef Lou Aaron of Westside Drive-In in to talk about all the things we can make with the cherries that we’re finding around the valley right now. And Lou, I can’t tell a lie. I don’t know if George Washington actually cut down a cherry tree….. That’s a false story….. well, I can’t tell a lie. I love cherries. So what kinds of things are we going to make with cherries today?
“You know, with cherries, you always automatically think of pies. We’re going to make a pie, but we’re not going to make it the cherry pie you’re thinking of. We’re going to make a breakfast pie,” said Chef Lou.
Start with one slightly beaten egg mixed with a quarter cup of salad oil. Then add one cup of milk. If you like it creamier, use half-and-half or heavy cream. Next, a quarter cup of sugar, or honey if you prefer. Finally, some chopped nuts, in this case, almonds.
“There’s our wet mix. Now this is our secret – the secret ingredient – yeah. This is homemade, but the Bisquick you can buy in the store, that’s basically what this is…” said Chef Lou.
Lou adds two cups of the biscuit mix, and has me start stirring it up. Next, two cups of pitted cherries coated in a little sugar.
“Cuz when they cook, they’ll caramelize on top. So I put that to the side,” said Chef Lou.
Take a ten-inch pie or cake pan, butter it, and line it with parchment paper to keep the cake from sticking to the bottom. Pour in the batter and spread it evenly.
“And then, you put your cherries right on top. And what’s going to happen is, that’s going to cook right into the batter,” said Chef Lou.
Sprinkle some pumpkin pie spice, and add a few dabs of butter, and bake it at 375 degrees for 30 minutes.
“Then, after 30 minutes, we have – voila – this is beautiful, all the cherries baked down into it, the juices, everything is just really, really good,” said Chef Lou.
What a great way to enjoy the summery taste of cherries.
You know, the thing I love about this time of year is all the varieties of cherries that are out there. Now what are we going to cook?
“What we’re going to make is a nice summer salad, and I think strawberries kind of steal the showcase most of the time, but cherries are – actually I like them better in this salad,” said Chef Lou.
“So we start out with some vinegar there.”
That’s balsamic vinegar, mixed with some extra virgin olive oil. To that we add a bit of honey, and some Dijon mustard for a little extra kick. Lastly, some minced red onion.
“OK, so that’s our dressing. Pretty easy, Pretty simple…”
Pour it over your spinach leaves and toss it together.
“There’s a couple of ingredients I’m going to add to this. I have some feta cheese here. Now bleu cheese goes good, too, but I like feta. It has a nice flavor to it,” said Chef Lou.
Lou also made some spicy walnuts, roasted with sugar and cayenne pepper. They’ll add a nice crunch to the salad.
“So we mix that together. And then I want to put half of the feta in there, in the mix, and half of the walnuts.”
Then come the cherries, of course.
“Really nice. A good mixture there of the Bing and the Rainiers, and the Queen Annes.”
Put the salad on a plate and top it with the rest of the feta cheese and walnuts.
“And there you go with a nice summer cherry and spinach salad with a balsamic dressing. It’s really good. Especially perfect for the summer weather we’re having this week. It’s a really nice salad.”
Two great dishes using the fresh taste of summer – cherries.
Fresh cherries are available now in food stores and local farmers markets, as well as on many backyard cherry trees around the valley.
Here are both of Chef Lou’s cherry recipes:
Chef Lou’s Breakfast Cherry Pie
1 egg, well beaten
¼ cup vegetable oil
1 cup milk (or half & half or heavy cream)
1-1/2 cups biscuit mix (see biscuit mix recipe below)
¼ cup sugar
½ cup chopped (or sliced) almonds (or other nuts)
2 cups assorted fresh cherries, pitted & halved
2 Tbsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. pumpkin pie spice
2 Tbsp. butter
Beat together the egg, oil, and milk (or Half & Half or cream). Add the biscuit mix, sugar, and nuts, beating just until all ingredients are incorporated. Pour into 9-10” cake or pie pan. Mix cherry halves with the 2 tablespoons sugar. Arrange cherries on top of pie. Dot with the butter. Sprinkle with the pie spice. Bake at 375 degrees for 30 minutes. Remove from oven and let sit for a few minutes until slicing into wedges. Serve warm.
DRY BISCUIT MIX
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 Tbsp. + 1 tsp. baking powder
¼ tsp. salt
1 tsp. sugar
¼ tsp. cream of tartar
Mix these together for the dry ingredients and you have basically the “Bisquick” recipe
Chef Lou’s Summer Cherry & Walnut Salad
5 oz spinach leaves
1-1/2 cup assorted fresh cherries, pitted
½ cup cubed feta cheese
1/2 cup sweet & spicy walnuts (see recipe below)
¼ cup extra¬ virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
1-2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 tsp. honey
2 Tbsp. minced red onions
salt and pepper to taste
1 tsp. fresh chopped parsley
Whisk the oil, vinegar, mustard, honey, onions, salt and pepper to make the vinaigrette and set aside. Place the spinach in a bowl with the cherries, the cheese, and the walnuts. Toss with the vinaigrette right before serving. Sprinkle with chopped parsley.
Sweet & Spicy Walnuts
2 Tbsp. honey
1 cup warm water
1 cup walnuts
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1/8 tsp. cayenne pepper
Dissolve honey and 1 cup warm water. Add walnuts: soak 10 minutes. Drain, discarding honey mixture. Combine 1 tablespoon sugar, chili powder, and cayenne. Add walnuts, tossing to coat. Place on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes.