Friday, July 5, 2013

Tart Cherries!

Yeasted Cherry Cheese Coffee Cake

It all started with our trip to the orchard back in June.  We watched and waited until the cherry hotline announced the tart cherries would be ripe at the same time as the dark cherries.  We packed a lunch, piled into the car with our best pals John and Michele and headed down the highway to Mayberry (Mt Airy) and north to the edge of Virginia.  There, outside the town of Ararat, the 105 year old Levering Orchard sits perched on the side of a very steep mountain, much like Noah's fabled ark on the peak of Mount Ararat. They feature 44 varieties of cherries as well as apples, peaches and nectarines.

We first visited the orchard 2 years ago with friends and picked buckets of sweet bing cherries that day.  We had romantic memories of the breezy afternoon spent with jolly friends, happily picking and picnicking in the shade of the ancient cherry trees.  Something felt different this time, as if the cherry orchard had fallen on hard times.  The buildings were more ramshackle, the grass more overgrown, and we learned that they had lost 80% of the sweet cherry crop from the rains the previous week brought by tropical storm Andrea.

David still managed to find a half bucket of decent dark cherries and we picked and picked the tarts, they were at their prime, slipping easily by handfuls from the trees and into our buckets as we swayed atop tall skinny ladders set precariously into the tree branches.  We stumbled up and down the steep slope, over briars and poison ivy in search of the best trees, the ripest fruit.  When we had filled four buckets we knew we better stop, the tarts are more expensive than the sweets, being a rare and perishable treat, even the "pick your own" price was $3.79 a pound.

We found a rough spot to sit and eat our picnic, hot and tired from scrambling around the mountain side.  But we enjoyed a view of the distant blue ridge and watched tanagers and orchard orioles flit around in the trees.  Then we packed up and headed to the weighing shed.  We knew the bill would be high, the previous time we'd been shocked that we had picked $50 worth of cherries, but blew off the worry each time we ate another handful of the dark sweet fruit, remembering our happy day with friends.

The tarts, being more expensive, and filling the buckets more fully as they are smaller, caused our bill this day to total out at $83.00!!!   Oh well, it was done, we piled back in the car and began the 2.5 hour drive back home.  So you might ask, in the scheme of things, was it worth it?  We asked that question too.  But the reality is, you can rarely buy tart cherries here, they are hard to grow in our climate, and man are they good.
Fresh from the Orchard
I'm sorry I didn't get a photo of the state fair prize worthy lattice topped pie I baked a few weeks back, but I'll post a photo of the next one, and there will be another.  Once home we got right to work processing.  We washed, pitted and froze 7 quarts and the next day David used the last 3 quarts to make 5 half pints of cherry conserve.

Washing, Sorting, Pitting
We did the math- they were something like $8 a pound once we pitted them and tossed out the less than perfect fruits.  I don't know that we will do it again, the $8 per pound doesn't even figure in the gas and time spent driving all the way out there, but it is as much about the adventure as it is about the fruit.  Right?
 Glistening and frozen ready to be bagged

Yesterday we made the bodacious coffee cake pictured at the top of this post.
The recipe, I must admit, came from Martha Stewart and you can find it here

The yeasted dough was sexy, silky, with a whole stick of butter and a couple of eggs, nice to handle, it didn't stick to the table as we rolled it out and prepared the cake. We spread sweetened cream cheese over the dough and topped it with cherries before rolling into a log and twisting into a coil.

The snail, ready to rise one last time before baking 

Quite a production.  Once it was baked and cooled slightly I drizzled the confectioners sugar and milk icing over the top.  The flavor and texture of that white glaze shot me instantly back to the Ann Page (A&P) pecan coffee cakes my mother would buy for a special treat on Sundays at our house.  Damn it was good.  We criticized the lack of enough cherries in each bite, the wetness at the bottom of the cake as a result of the cherries having been frozen and settled to the bottom during rising.  We continued to be critical as we ate slice after slice.  I said anyone else would have been screaming at how delicious the thing was, before we fell into a carb induced coma on the couch.  And it wasn't bad nibbled last night before bed or warmed up this morning alongside the coffee.  And there is more- it was a monster of a cake that we'll enjoy for at least one more day.

1 comment:

Carol Henderon said...

Looks yummy. I want it!