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Cherry crop: Late and little

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Henderson Lewelling is credited with bringing Royal Anne cherries to Oregon.

'Nope, they're not ready yet,' Ruth Poindexter said last week when I called to check on the cherry crop. 'They're still about a week or 10 days out. And the crop is small - only about 25 percent of what we usually have.'

Ruth, who owns Sherwood Orchards with her husband Charles, blames the small crop on a lack of bees to pollinate the trees and the unseasonably cold spring weather.

'We're already experiencing a shortage of bees and then with the cold weather, that made it really bad. Bees won't pollinate unless it's over 50 degrees. They just weren't out there to pollinate the trees when they usually are,' she said. 'We can expect the same thing with peaches this year. The crops will be small and prices will be high.'

This is definitely disappointing news to me. I have an acute fondness for cherries and will have to make the most of their short season.

We can thank pioneer nurseryman Henderson Lewelling for bringing cherries to Oregon from Iowa. The story goes that Lewelling arrived in Oregon in 1847, bringing with him 700 tiny fruit trees packed in soil-filled boxes. He took up a land claim near present-day Milwaukie and he established an orchard and the first nursery of the Northwest.

Lewelling's brother Seth came west in 1850 and joined the business venture, along with William Meek, who had married one of Henderson's daughters. By 1851, the Lewelling nursery had over 18,000 fruit trees ready for sale with branch nurseries in Salem and Albany.

One of the cherry trees Lewelling brought from Iowa was a variety called Napolean Bigarreau; the story has been lost about how Lewelling came to call this cherry Royal Anne. This blush- and yellow-skinned cherry would grow to be the most profitable cherry variety grown in the Northwest. It would, in fact, be used to make the famous Oregon State creation, maraschino cherries.

(Royal Annes are similar in color to Oregon's popular Ranier cherry that also is available now).

Seth Lewelling is best remembered for developing new fruit varieties. His hybrids include the Black Republican in 1860, and the Bing in 1875. The Bing cherry is named after Lewelling's faithful Chinese assistant, Ah Bing, and is considered Seth Lewelling's crowning achievement.

A third black cherry, the Lambert, was developed by Joseph Hamilton Lambert in 1870.

Royal Annes, Bings, Lamberts and Black Republicans were the most important varieties in early Oregon orchards.

Today, cherry orchards can be found throughout the Willamette Valley and Columbia River Gorge. More varieties are available, such as the early ripening sweet Chelan, the exceptionally large yellow and blush Rainiers, the mahogany red Lapins and the Skeenas.

When buying cherries, pick up a handful at a time and only select the best fruit. Good cherries should be one inch or more in diameter, glossy, plump, hard and dark colored for their variety. Buy cherries with the stems on; stems should be fresh, green and pliable. Avoid fruit that is undersized, soft or bruised or has cuts on the skin. Be a picky shopper: if you find many damaged fruits at the market, you might want to look at another market, as spoiled cherries will start the others to decay.

When you get your cherries home, loosely pack them unwashed in plastic bags or pour them into a shallow pan in a single layer and cover with plastic wrap to minimize bruising. Cherries in good condition will store in the refrigerator for up to a week - but why keep them that long? Eat 'em up while they are at their best!

Today you get three recipes, all of which are excellent ways to get your fair share of this season's skimpy cherry crop. The entrée in the Five:30 section is superb and simple - perfect for weeknight dinners or entertaining. Cherry clafoutis is one of my favorite desserts and a perfect cap to any dinner. And if you want to savor the flavor of cherries through the winter, make the Pickled Cherries. They make an irresistible hors d'oeuvres alongside charcuterie.

Bon Appetit! Eat Locally!

Pickled Cherries

Makes 8 pints

Any cherries can be pickled, but sour cherries have the best flavor.

2 pounds cherries

1 ½ cups sugar

4 ¼ cups white wine vinegar

4 cloves

6 peppercorns

Rinse, dry and pick over the cherries, throwing out (or eating!) any blemished ones and cutting the stems down to about ½ inch.

Prepare eight 1-pint canning jars and self-sealing lids in boiling water, following the manufacturer's instructions.

Stir together the sugar, vinegar, cloves and peppercorns in a nonreactive saucepan, bring to a boil, and cook for 3 minutes. Pack the cherries into the canning jars. Pour the hot syrup over the cherries, cove, and seal, following the manufacturer's instructions. Let sit for 2 months in a cool, dark place before eating. After opening the jars, the cherries will keep refrigerated for a year.

Cherry Clafoutis

Serves 6

Cherries with the pits left in, as in the following recipe, are more flavorful and juicy than pitted cherries would be. Just be sure you place a few small plates around the table for collecting the pits.

This clafoutis is also very nice made with blackberries, blueberries, raspberries, or even a mixture of summer berries. They don't need the preliminary cooking but should be tossed in a big bowl with sugar and lemon zest (no cinnamon) and several tablespoons of flour, then arranged in a generously buttered baking dish.

2 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 pound sweet or sour cherries, washed and stemmed

1/3 cup plus 3 tablespoons granulated sugar (1/3 cup for sweet cherries, ½ cup for sour cherries)

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon grated lemon zest

2 eggs, separated

3 tablespoons flour

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon almond extract

1/3 cup heavy cream

1 pinch salt

Powdered sugar for dusting

Melt the butter in a sauté pan over medium heat. When the butter is foaming but hasn't begun to brown, add the cherries, 1/3 or ½ cup sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest. Cook for 7 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, or until the cherries are tender when pierced with the point of a small knife and the juices have begun to thicken. Arrange the cherries in the bottom of a 9-inch baking dish.

Preheat the oven to 375°F.

Beat the egg yolks and 3 tablespoons sugar together for several minutes, until light and creamy. Beat in the flour, vanilla, almond extract and cream.

In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Fold the whites into the batter just until blended, and pour the batter over the fruit.

Bake in the upper third of the oven for about 20 minutes, until the batter is puffed and well browned. Let the clafoutis cool slightly, dust with powdered sugar, and serve.

Both recipes from Alice Waters' Chez Panisse Fruit, 2002

Five:30

A five-ingredient entrée ready in 30 minutes or less! (Water, oil, salt and pepper don't count!)

Grilled Pork Chops

with Cherry Relish

Serves 4

4 pork loin chops (each about ½ inch thick)

¼ cup low sodium soy sauce

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

½ cup chopped onion

1 tablespoon chopped peeled fresh ginger

1 cup coarsely chopped pitted sweet cherries

Season pork lightly with pepper. Place in shallow baking dish. Pour soy sauce over. Turn chops to coat. Cover, chill one hour, turning occasionally.

Heat oil in small skillet over medium heat. Add onion, ginger and garlic; sauté until onion is almost tender, about 5 minutes. Add cherries; sauté until cherries begin to soften, about 8 minutes. Remove from heat. Season with salt.

Prepare barbecue to medium high heat or prepare broiler. Remove pork from marinade. Grill pork until cooked through, about 4 minutes per side. Transfer to plates. Spoon relish over pork.

Bon Appetit, June 1995

Randall welcomes your food questions and research suggestions. She can be reached at 503-635-8811 or by e-mail at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .