We are cherry-besotted around here.
People, we haven’t had much of a summer. Right now, as I stare out the window while waiting for the words to appear, I see a grey sky before me. A mono-color, same-color-as-slate, no-break-in-the-clouds grey. It’s about 61 degrees.
We need as much color and intensity of flavor as we can find right now.
(I know. The rest of you are sweltering in the heat. We’re headed to New York tomorrow, so there will be plenty of summer sunlight in our future.)
One of the gifts of living in a place where summer is sometimes a figment of our imagination is that everyone is so very grateful for the sunlight when it arrives. When the sun rises in the sky without the encumbrance of clouds, you can see everyone’s chest opening, the ribs stretching wide, smiles arising. You pass people on the street and see wide-open faces, welcoming. The day before, when the sky lowered, people kept their faces to themselves. On sunny days, summer is a communal experience.
It’s really the same process as waiting for the cherries to ripen on the tree. We sit through months of skeletal branches, the first tentative buds, leafy-green goodness, and tiny green cherries hanging amidst that green against sky. And then, the birds eat most of them. The dreams are dashed.
When we can pull a cherry off our tree, a dark-black, ripe cherry without any bird pecks? We’re ecstatic. And if we happen to eat that cherry under a blue sky? So much the better.
A few days ago, the sun came out. Strong. Clear. We ran outside.
As I pulled weeds from the garden overgrown from too much rain, Danny followed Lu around the yard. She wanted to blow bubbles, then kick the soccer ball, then run. However, when she remembered the ladder, she became single-minded.
“I go up the ladder, Daddy. For cherries.”
And so he stood just below her, letting her reach without his hand on hers, and watched her pluck cherries from our tree.
The cherry tree in our yard produces wine-dark cherries, with a sweet flavor at the front and a tannic taste at the back of the mouth. They’re small cherries, so each bite feels like something special. They’re addictive. And for a few days this past week, the sun was shining. Lu ate cherries off the branches, from the top of a ladder, her dad just beneath her, her mom pulling weeds and grinning that wide-open smile.
Plus, we taught her how to spit out the pits.
Cherry season, like summer skies, may be brief around here. But oh, it is so sweet .
The first week of having cherries in our lives again, I don’t want to do anything with them but eat them clean and spit out the pits. However, once the cherries come into the farmstands, especially the ones from Eastern Washington, we make them into pies, clafoutis, scones, and cakes. This summer, however, has been the summer of homemade cherry-basil soda.
Cherries and basil go together so well that we’ll think you’ll be cherry-besotted soon too. However, think of the possibilities of this technique with other fruits and herbs: strawberry-mint soda; nectarine-lavender soda; watermelon-lime soda. There are endless possibilities. And then, of course, you could use these syrups to make homemade popsicles too.
There’s no need to buy soda in a can again.
2 cups pitted fresh cherries
1 cup organic cane sugar
½ cup chopped fresh basil
Setting up the syrup. Combine the cherries, sugar, and basil in a large bowl. Toss them around with your hands to coat the cherries. Cover the bowl in plastic wrap and let it sit in the refrigerator overnight.
Making the syrup. The next morning, put the cherry mixture into a blender. (A food processor would work well here too.) There should be a lovely syrup at the bottom of the bowl. Be sure to include all of that loveliness in the blender. Blend the cherry mixture until it is smooth. Push the cherry puree through a fine-mesh strainer. Throw away the cherry pulp.
You now have cherry-basil syrup.
Making the soda. Combine some of the cherry-basil syrup with club soda for cherry-basil soda. You’ll know your own ratio of syrup to club soda. Although we’ve always done ours by taste alone, I think our favorite ratio is about 1 ounce of syrup to 6 ounces of club soda.
Don’t forget the ice! Enjoy.