Mama sure loves her some sour cherries. She waits all year for them, and it’s often hit or miss because we’re usually traveling during the 1 or 2 weeks they’re available (around July 4th where we live). One year, she was so desperate for them, she bought them from a farm stand off the turnpike as we went on vacation. Last year, it was so hot that the farmer she usually buys them from told her they practically melted off the trees. Needless to say, they were both very sad about this, as was Papa, who counts Mama’s sour cherry pie among his favorites.
As usual, Mama was in a panic this year. We would once again be traveling, headed to a place with a growing season that’s at least a couple weeks behind ours. (I don’t know what that means, but it seemed to matter to Mama.) Then, Mama spied a sign that read “sour cherries.” It put her into hyperdrive. She saw the sign while taking Papa to the airport in the morning, then she went to work, drove all the way back home to pick me up from daycare and let out the dog, took us back to the orchard to pick the cherries before a thunderstorm hit, washed and froze a few quarts, then packed us up for our trip to visit my grandparents. Apparently sours are that important to her. And they should be to you too!
I had never been cherry picking before (though I have picked other things), and it just so happened that the particular tree we picked from had split and some of its boughs hung all the way to the ground. They were perfect Jude-height for me to pick from! Mama bit a cherry for me so she could take out the pit, and she warned me that it would be sour like a lemon. And it was! I was expecting it to be sweet like the cherries I just started to enjoy, and even though I like lemons, I wasn’t too crazy about these bright red little gems.
But Mama showed me how yummy they can be with a few simple additions. Because we’re looking for easy here, she made a crumble. She explained that if she didn’t use any oats in the topping, we could call it a crisp instead. Are you confused yet? Both a crisp and a crumble are a jumble of fruit that is topped with a loose mixture (called a streusel) of brown sugar, butter, spices, maybe a bit of flour, and sometimes nuts or oats, then baked. A cobbler is the same idea, except with biscuits dropped on top of the fruit in place of the streusel.
Mama likes crisps and crumbles because they’re easy—you really can’t screw them up, she says. And I like them because I can use my hands to make the topping! You can use any kind of fruit and bake it in any size pan—a pie plate, an 8 x 8” dish, or even individual ramekins. And because they’re not neat like a slice of pie, you don’t have to bother with getting the fruit to gel and hold together. The beauty of these desserts is that the fruit is meant to mix with the topping.
Jude on Food: Freeze your cherries before pitting them. Mama found that they splatter a lot less, and the stones pop out much easier!
Mmm, mmm. We made this at my friend Walter’s house. His Mama had some recently picked raspberries that she added to it. Mama didn’t put too much sugar in with the cherries because the streusel was quite sweet, so I was still able to get that bit of pucker mouth when I ate it. And the topping was crispy yet buttery. All in all, it was worth it to turn the oven on on such a hot day!
Sour Cherry Crumble
About a quart or so of sour cherries, pitted (add a handful of raspberries or blueberries, if you want)
1/3 to 1/2 cup brown sugar (or more, if you really want to sweeten it up)
About 1 cup old-fashioned oats
Whole-wheat or all-purpose flour (optional)
1/2 to 1 tsp spices such as cinnamon or cardamom, if desired
1/2 cup chopped or sliced nuts, if desired (Since cherries and almonds like each other, Mama added a handful of sliced almonds.)
4 to 5 Tbsp butter (you can be like Mama and put in a whole stick if you really want to)
Preheat the oven 375°F. Put the cherries in a bowl and toss with a a couple tablespoons of the brown sugar. (You have to cut some of that sourness!) Toss in a tablespoon or so of flour, if you like, to thicken up your filling, but you certainly don’t have to. Pour the cherries into a pie plate or other baking dish.
In a separate bowl, combine the oats, remaining brown sugar, spices (if using), and nuts (if using). Cut the butter into chunks and toss it into the bowl of dry ingredients. Use your fingers to mash it all together, so you get some glops of buttery oatmeal. Evenly sprinkle the mixture on top of the cherries, then bake in the center of the oven for 35 to 45 minutes. The topping should start to brown, and you’ll see the cherries bubbling.
If you’re allowed, add a scoop of vanilla ice cream when the crumble has had a chance to cool from the oven but is still warm.