Sour cherries: Get them while you can
Quick. It's the last week to pick up some fresh sour cherries. I found a 2-pound box of sour cherries from McMullin Orchards in central Utah at Sis, an Armenian deli and market in the Los Feliz area over the weekend.
They came in a hinged clear plastic box complete with the leaves. Smaller than Bings, they have a tart/sweet taste with some depth. What do people do with them, I asked Sis owner Jack Gurdzhyan. "They make jam and preserves, mostly," he said. "Russians infuse vodka with the cherries to make a liqueur too. Until three years ago, you couldn't get them in this country fresh." The variety is called Balaton, described on the McMullin website as "a newer variety, becoming more and more popular as a fresh eating cherry."
Me? I decided to make a cherry pie. I more or less followed a recipe in "Chez Panisse Fruit" by Alice Waters and company . But instead of the organic vegetable shortening in the pie crust recipe, I substituted leaf lard I'd bought in Seattle earlier in the year and still had frozen in my freezer. The lard came from Wooly Pigs at the Seattle farmers market and comes from a farmer who raises the curly-haired Hungarian Mangalitsa pig prized for its abundant fat. For the crust, I used basically half butter and half lard -- and what an incredibly flaky crust it made, even in this heat!
(Incidentally those little white dots you see in the photo are tapioca pearls. The pie is supposed to be slightly thickened with instant-cooking tapioca. I had some tapioca in my pantry, but don't think it was the quick-cooking kind and not all of it integrated into the filling. Nevermind, it still tasted fine.)
The cherries have a very different texture and flavor from Bings. They're softer and less meaty, more juice than flesh, really, and make a truly excellent pie.
The season for sour cherries is just three weeks long, so hurry if you're going to find some still available. If not, don't worry, Sis sells Armenian sour cherry jam all year long.
Sis Deli & Grocery, 1800-1/2 Hillhurst Ave., Los Angeles; (323) 665-6406.
-- S. Irene Virbila
Photo: S. Irene Virbila