When I was a little kid, my family made a tradition out of going fruit-picking. We'd drive 45 minutes upstate, watching the suburbs give way to farm land, until we started to see rows and rows of evenly-spaced trees. We picked peaches in July and apples in September and even tried berries a few times, but I think everyone preferred the shade provided by larger fruit trees to all the crouching in the hot sun that berry picking involved. While I do love peaches and apples and berries (and almost any fruit, really), my favorite was always cherries.
Maybe it's because cherry season started right around my birthday; maybe it's because cherry trees were the easiest to climb; maybe it's because you can eat a million cherries while you pick them (as opposed to larger fruits, where you really do have to pace yourself a bit). Whatever the reason, I just loved that day when we would all don matching red shirts (to hide cherry juice stains, of course) and drive up north. Last weekend, we decide to revive the tradition. It had been at least 10 years since we last went fruit picking and I'm not going to lie, I was THRILLED.
But I think me and my sister have gotten just a bit faster at picking cherries since the last time. When we dragged our fruit-filled buckets to the weighing station, we realized that the 5 of us (me, my parents, my sister, and one of her friends) had picked 25 POUNDS of cherries. We had about 20 pounds of deep red Bing cherries and 5 pounds of yellow-pink Ranier cherries. Far more cherries than any of us expected or knew what to do with.
That night, we made a cherry cobbler for dessert. (8 cups of cherries down.) In the morning, I made a sauce of cherries sauteed with a little butter and sugar to go over my dad's challah French toast. (2-3 more cups down.) We put a bowl of cherries out on the counter for snacking and kept refilling it. (Few more cups...) And then in the evening, we made gelato, and it was SO good. Four more cups down! Only... 23874235 remaining. But once we split the remaining cherries up 5 ways, the leftover amount seemed reasonable. I've been snacking on mine all week and just finished them today, and I only had to throw out a few bad ones on the way. You can't really get fruit any fresher (or cheaper) than when you pick it yourself, so at least our cherry excess lasted longer than supermarket cherries probably would have.
I had never made ice cream of any sort before, at least not in recent memory, so I really enjoyed seeing this come together. We made a few changes to the original recipe, which are reflected in the version below.
Balsamic Black Cherry Gelato
makes 1 quart; adapted from a recipe from The Ontario Tender Fruit Producers
4 egg yolks
2/3-1 cup granulated sugar [adjust the amount based on how sweet your cherries are]
2 cups milk [we used 1% but it's probably even better and richer with whole milk]
4 cups sweet black cherries
2 tbs good quality aged balsamic vinegar
1 tsp vanilla
blender or food processor
ice cream maker
In bowl, whisk together yolks with sugar until thickened and pale. Set aside.
In medium saucepan over medium heat, bring milk to simmer, stirring often. Whisk about 1/2 cup (125 mL) of milk into egg mixture and then transfer back to the saucepan. Cook over low heat and stir constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is thick enough to coat the back of the spoon, about 8 minutes. Pour back into bowl and let cool.
In the meantime, pit the cherries and remove their stems. Purée 3 cups of them and their juices in a food processor or blender until smooth. Stir cherry purée, cherries, balsamic and vanilla into milk mixture. Cover and refrigerate overnight and up to 1 day. [Or put in the freezer for an hour, if you are in a rush/impatient. Just make sure you take it out before it freezes!]
Transfer to an ice cream maker and freeze according to manufacturer's instructions. Alternatively, freeze mixer in a large stainless steel bowl. After 4 hours, transfer to food processor and blend again. Freeze completely.