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Bright ideas for a more blissful cherry season

Wholesome breakfast bread, piquant relish, an elegantly herbal fruit salad -- it's a summer to love.

June 25, 2008|Amy Scattergood and Donna Deane | Times Staff Writers

IN EARLY May, Southern California shoppers stalk farmers market stalls, impatient -- some might say a little fruit-crazed -- for the season's first cherries

By now, with California's cherry harvest reaching its end and reinforcements arriving from the orchards of Washington and Oregon, we've grown happily accustomed to the pints of Rainiers and Tartarians, Bings and Queen Anne's, filling the market pints like big, ruby marbles. Maybe we've loaded them into cobblers and muffins, and now need a little inspiration -- nothing too fancy, but recipes with a slightly unexpected spin.

Like a flat-out gorgeous whole-grain bread studded with cherries like garnets. Spill a pound of halved scarlet Bings into a bowl with basic quick bread ingredients -- whole wheat flour and brown sugar give the crumb a nutty, earthy flavor -- then add toasted pine nuts, some fragrant fennel seeds. A simple mix-bake-cool (resist the urge to cut this bread hot) and you've got a tasty breakfast -- perfect with a hot cup of joe and maybe a nub of honey butter

Cherries are best known in desserts, either farmhouse rustic or in dainty pastry shop configurations, but they have a terrific affinity for main courses too.

Make a quick relish of chopped cherries -- Bings or Tartarians or any ripe red cherry -- red onion and yellow bell pepper. Add a splash of lemon, another of balsamic vinegar. Then stir in fresh minced tarragon: The faint anise flavor of the tarragon is an unexpected note. Pair the easy chutney with grilled meat or chicken -- or duck, which is sublime with cherries.

For dessert, try a slightly unusual take on the fruit salad. Add wedges of ripe apricots (it is stone fruit season, after all) and cubes of honeydew melon to halved cherries. Macerate the fruit in sugar, lemon and lime juice and a dash of sweet white wine. Just before serving this salad, add minced fresh basil.

So load your proverbial cherry bowls to the brim -- look for ripe cherries with a glossy surface and supple stems -- brush up on your Chekhov (um, that would be "The Cherry Orchard"), and enjoy the fruits of the season.

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amy.scattergood@latimes.com

donna.deane@latimes.com

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Cherry relish

Total time: 25 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: From Donna Deane. You can serve this with grilled chicken, pork, sausages, lamb or beef.

1 pound Bing cherries, stemmed and pitted

2 teaspoons minced red onion

2 teaspoons lemon juice

1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon minced tarragon

Salt

Freshly ground pepper

2 tablespoons chopped yellow bell pepper

1. Pulse the cherries in a food processor until coarsely chopped, then place the chopped cherries in a medium bowl. Stir in the onion, lemon juice, balsamic vinegar and tarragon. Season with a pinch each of salt and pepper, or to taste.

2. Gently fold in the yellow pepper. Cover and let stand 15 minutes for the flavors to meld. This makes about 3 cups relish.

Each serving: 23 calories; 0 protein; 6 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 10 mg. sodium.

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Cherry, honey and fennel bread

Total time: 1 hour, 10 minutes

Servings: 12

Note: From Donna Deane. If you'd like, serve this bread with honey butter (2 tablespoons honey whipped with one-fourth cup softened butter).

1 tablespoon toasted fennel seed

2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

3 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup packed brown sugar

1 egg

1 1/4 cups milk

1/4 cup honey

3 tablespoons butter, melted

1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

1 pound cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved (at room temperature)

1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and butter a 9-by-5-inch loaf dish.

2. Grind the fennel seed using a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, then combine in a large bowl with the flour, baking powder and salt. Sprinkle the brown sugar over and mix to thoroughly combine, pressing out any lumps.

3. In a small bowl, lightly beat the egg then add the milk, honey and melted butter. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the milk mixture. Stir until almost combined before adding the pine nuts and cherries, then stir just until evenly mixed.

4. Spoon the dough into the loaf dish and spread evenly. Bake until the center tests done with a wooden pick, 50 minutes to 1 hour. Check the bread 10 minutes before the timer goes off; if the bread is browning too quickly, tent loosely with foil. Let cool slightly before running a knife around the sides of the loaf dish to loosen, then invert onto a cooling rack and let cool to warm before slicing.

Each serving: 232 calories; 6 grams protein; 36 grams carbohydrates; 4 grams fiber; 9 grams fat; 3 grams saturated fat; 28 mg. cholesterol; 356 mg. sodium.

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Cherry and apricot fruit salad

Total time: 15 minutes, plus marinating time

Servings: 6

Note: From test kitchen director Donna Deane. You can substitute a sweet white wine such as Sauternes, Barsac, Monbazillac, Muscat de Rivesaltes or Muscat de St.-Jean-de-Minervois for the Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise.

1 pound cherries, stemmed, pitted and halved

1/2 pound apricots, halved, pitted and cut into wedges

2 cups diced honeydew (cut into 1-inch pieces)

1/2 cup Muscat de Beaumes-de-Venise

1 teaspoon sugar

1 tablespoon lime juice

1 tablespoon lemon juice

1 teaspoon minced basil

In a large bowl, combine the cherries, apricots and honeydew. Stir in the Muscat, then sprinkle in the sugar and add the lime juice and lemon juice. Stir to combine. Cover and let stand 30 minutes before serving so that the flavors blend. Stir in the basil just before serving.

Each serving: 116 calories; 2 grams protein; 24 grams carbohydrates; 3 grams fiber; 0 fat; 0 saturated fat; 0 cholesterol; 13 mg. sodium.

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