Channel your inner granny

Now, by “granny” I mean the kind of person who has a china hutch with little figurines inside. And under that there is a cupboard where there might be some bottles sitting in the dark. And if you have been a pleasing guest, the cupboard might be opened and a bottle pulled out and opened. Tiny stemmed glasses will be pulled out from among the china dogs and shepherd girls, and a dark ruby liquid proffered. It is sweet and spicy and there is a warm memory of alcohol in your throat when you drink it. It’s so — sour cherry liqueur.

Sour cherry season is here again, and although I have nothing against sweet cherries, this is the time of year that I really wait for. Now, personally I can find no higher purpose for sour cherries than a pie (and I just made a humdinger of one using this recipe from the venerable Bartolini Kitchens. Go look at this recipe just to see the beautiful top crust of the pie. Breath taking!) Ali, on the other hand, is partial to a little glass of cherry liqueur from time to time, so I make it every year. The best thing about this recipe is that you don’t have to pit the cherries, because everyone knows how fiddly a job that is. And aside from that, it’s easy to do and it tastes good. It does take a while, though, so it is not for those in a hurry. Grannies have to be patient.

I got the recipe from a website called Uçan Martı (Flying Seagull), which seems to have folded in 2010. However, the original post (in Turkish) is still here, so you can look at it if you like (and you will see one of those little glasses I was talking about). I used this recipe because I wanted to ferment the cherries a bit. The recipe is for one kilo of cherries (2.2 lb), but obviously you can adjust the amounts.

Sour Cherry Liquer

Ingredients:

1 kg (2.2 lb) sour cherries

500 g (1.1 lb) sugar

12 whole cloves

4-5 cinnamon sticks

1 glass (250 ml or 1 cup) vodka, or alcohol of your choice

1. Stem the cherries, but don’t pit them. Give them a rinse.

2. Put the cherries in a big glass jar in layers — cherries, sugar, cherries, sugar, until they are all in there. Screw on the lid tightly and let it sit in a sunny spot for one month (the author of the original post sensibly advises that you put a label with the date on the jar).

sugar
This may look like a lot of sugar, and that is because it is. However, a lot of it will become alcohol. Not all of it, by any means — it is a sweet drink — but don’t be too alarmed by the amount of sugar.

 

3. After a month, it will be juicy in the jar, and you can add your spices. Tie them up in a cheese cloth and throw them in. Then close the jar and let it sit another month.

This is after just a week of sunbathing, and already things are getting pretty liquidy. The smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes, too.
This is after just a week of sunbathing, and already things are getting pretty liquidy. The smell is enough to bring tears to your eyes, too.

4. Now that you have patiently waited two months, your liqueur is ready to drink. This is also the moment that the vodka has been waiting for. Fish out the spices in their swaddling and pour in the vodka – you are now ready for bottling!

And the cherries? Well, there are several ways to approach them. If you strain them out, you could freeze them and then use them in cake (I like them very much in my fill in the blanks cake) or you could just put them in a jar and cover them with liqueur and serve them. I bet you could cover them in chocolate! Mmmm… Of course, if you do anything like that, you ought to pit them, or at least warn your friends before they dig in.

While the sugar is melting, it's a bit like snow in slow motion, which is a nice chilly visual for these sultry days.
While the sugar is melting, it’s a bit like snow in slow motion, which is a nice chilly visual for these sultry days.

p.s. — I would love to say that I made this with cherries from our garden, but we harvested exactly 4 cherries from our sour cherry tree this year. Maybe some other time. These ones I bought from a jolly old lady in the market. Come to think of it, she could have been someone’s granny…

UPDATE (20/07/14)
i’ve made two slight adjustments to my original method of making cherry liqueur. One is that I now leave some of the cherry stems on to add flavor. The other adjustment I made after enjoying this post over at Rachel Eats and reading “…how the heat of high summer halts fermentation but precipitates maceration. ” and having one of those moments like you see in films where a montage of events flashes before you — bottles of cherry liqueur on terraces in full sun at my mother in law’s house and at other homes I have visited.

20140720-133759-49079420.jpg“The liqueur will sit in the full, blazing sun!” I cries, and that is where it is for the month.
 

 

Fried Chicken

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Fried chicken, biscuits, and chard (for a healthy touch…).

It may have been all stars and stripes in NY in the wake of our departure, but it was mostly business as usual here in the garden on the 4th of July. Still, maybe it was reading blog posts about people’s days, or emails from family, but yesterday my mom and I suddenly found ourselves on fire to fry a chicken.
I make fried chicken approximately once a year, and I always use my aunt’s recipe. She knew that I loved it, so she used to make it for me every time I visited her and my uncle in Portland, OR. (That and pigs’ feet in black vinegar. Mmmmm….) When it came time for me to try and make it on my own, I turned to Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything and discovered his very clever method for frying chicken and combined it with Auntie’s recipe. This, then, is how we fry chicken at my house:

Auntie Ga’s Fried Chicken

1 chicken, butchered to your liking
2 cups milk
3 cloves garlic
1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice powder
1 teaspoon salt
flour for dredging
A big fry pan with a lid
A timer
oil for frying (my aunt used Crisco, my cousin revealed to me. Daisy from Coolcookstyle fed me rumors of chicken fried in bacon fat — oh, if only! Do what you must.)

1. At least an hour beforehand, combine the milk, garlic, five spice and salt in a big bowl and submerge the chicken in its tasty bath.
2. When you are ready to fry, get out your big fry pan and fill it 1/2 inch deep with oil. I’d like to tell you to heat it to about 300 degrees, but really, using a thermometer just illustrated how wildly the oil temperature in my pan fluctuates. Mark Bittman says that when a pinch of flour sizzles upon contact with the oil, it’s ready.
3. While the oil is heating, dredge the chicken in flour. If your five spice has been sitting around for years like mine, you may want to add a teaspoon or so to the flour, and if you like salt you might want to toss in a hefty pinch or two.
4. Now here’s where a timer comes in handy. You will need to gently lay your chicken pieces in the oil (not too many, now!) and cover the pan. Cook for 7 minutes, noting with satisfaction that all that popping is going on safely under the lid of your pan and not spraying your entire kitchen with oil. Then uncover, turn over, and cook for another 7 minutes (try not to be disappointed if the oil takes this opportunity to make up for lost time). Finally, turn once more and cook for 5 minutes.
5. Keeping the chicken in the oven (300 F) will keep it nice and hot and ensure that it is cooked well, but I had biscuits in there, so I couldn’t and the chicken was just fine.

Sour cherries are in season at the moment. Unfortunately, our grand total harvest of cherries for the year was 5 cherries. I’m not proud, so I bought 3 kilos of cherries at the market yesterday and made a cherry pie for dessert with some of them. (The rest are going into jam and into cherry liquer, which I will write about soon.) All in all, not a light meal, but a tasty one.

On a more self-sufficient and healthy note, the garden did provide a some tasty plums. I went down to the tree and I gave it a food hard shake, which elicited a hearty giggle from Kaya (who was on my back in his carrier). I hunted around for the plums and rounded up a nice big bowl of them. They’re very nice — firm and sweet-tart.

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