INGREDIENT OF THE MONTH - Cherries
Cherries were first cultivated by the Romans and brought back to Britain around 74 BC by the decadent Roman general Lucullus, who is rumoured to have committed suicide when his supply ran out. Cherry orchards were introduced to Britain in Tudor times, when Henry VIII, who was said to have been a big fan of the fruit, ordered the trees to be planted.
Cherries are a member of the Prunus genus family, which also includes plums, peaches and apricots. They’re easy to grow as small open trees or tied to a fence, and are happy in most climates. Their blossom and fruit are an important source of nectar for insects, butterflies and birds. There are 1000 varieties throughout the world, though common types include maraschino, griotte and morello. Cherries are full of antioxidants and a good source of vitamin C, potassium and iron. They’re also one of the few fruits to contain the hormone melatonin, which helps regulate sleep patterns.
Buying & storing
As size and colour may differ according to variety, it’s always worth taste testing first. As a general rule of thumb look for firm, plump cherries that are free from blemishes. As with many fruits, the fresher the better, so buy British varieties from local suppliers where possible. Those shipped from the Southern hemisphere have been stored for up to four weeks before making their way into your shopping basket, so are no substitute for freshly picked when it comes to flavour.
Nothing beats a perfectly ripe cherry eaten as it is, but they’re also wonderful to use in cooking. Try a classic American cherry pie or combine with almonds, their perfect bedfellow, in a Bakewell tart. Their sweetness contrasts well with salty goat’s cheese and their juice reduced into a sauce would be the perfect foil for roast duck breast. The enduringly popular Black forest gateau proves that cherries and chocolate are also a match made in heaven – try dipping them in melted chocolate for an instant summer dessert.
WHAT'S GOOD AT THE MOMENT?
Ripe summer fruits and vibrant veg are the order of the day at this time of year.
A ripe peach, with all its sticky, dribbly goodness, tastes exactly like summer, and it seems wrong to enjoy their fragrant sweetness out of season. Whilst one of life’s great pleasures is simply eating them raw, they’re also wonderful in tarts, pies and cakes or pureed and combined with prosecco to form the base of a bellini. They’re also brilliant when griddled over a high heat to add a caramel dimension, or used to make pesche ubriache (drunk peaches) by slicing them and serving in a glass of fizzy white wine. The Italian white peach is a juicy delight, whilst Flat peaches are delicious and a little easier to eat. Look out for those with a soft, velvety skin and a bright complexion.
The courgette is actually a summer squash, so it’s no surprise their vibrant green flesh is best enjoyed in warmer months. Their saffron-coloured flowers are a real delicacy, especially when deep-fried in a light, tempura style batter. Smaller, thinner versions will be sweeter and lighter than their bigger counterparts, whilst the pale green and yellow varieties available in summer will add a splash of colour to summery dishes. Try grating into a salad for instant texture and juiciness, or combine with goat’s cheese, lemon and mint for a beautiful chilled summer soup.