As I noted in the updated “About Me” section, I am leaving the job that interferes so inexcusably with my blogging time — and, let’s be fair, also provides the captive audience for my weekly baking experiments — in favor of an accelerated masters program to set up my next career move. Since said program is on the other coast, His Lordship, the puppy and I are hauling ourselves all the way across the country, again, for the next year.
(I should probably mention that my shifting career was also the cause of the last cross-country move. Yes, His Lordship is a saint who amply deserves perfect birthday pies preceded by meatapalooza birthday dinners. But I digress.)
The point is that we need to clear out the pantry in the next six weeks. I’m going to have to forcibly restrain myself from buying anything except weekly staples and start thinking of creative ways to use up what’s already in stock. Given my tendency to accumulate and hoard esoteric items, this is probably going to result in some interesting meals and might be fun to watch in a freakshow kind of way.
Shall we get started? Fabulous.
This first entry might not seem like a pantry-clearing dish, but I’m definitely counting the liquor cabinet as part of the brief, especially since it contains both our purchases and legacies we took on when other friends moved away. Since neither of us is much for drinking at home, we consequently have enough booze stockpiled to run a fairly creditable speakeasy.
I’ve said before that I’m a mad fan of sour cherries and am giddy as long as they’re in the market, which is about two weeks in an average summer here. This summer’s harvest having been so delayed, I’m snatching them up with even more frenzied desperation than usual. The last quart was made into a cobbler, but it occurred to me as I was digging the luscious fruit from under the disappointingly under-cooked puff pastry top that the filling would have shone much brighter on its own.
Which brings us to this sauce. The original cobbler recipe included red wine, but as I didn’t feel like starting a new bottle when we were already going to a wine party, I substituted a recently-opened port. The port gave the cherries a lush, grown-up character, while the sourness of the cherries ensured that the thickened port didn’t veer into insipidity. The bottle still being mostly full, I made the filling by itself with a second quart of cherries Saturday evening, to serve over the cheesecake His Lordship picked up.
Essentially it’s Cherries Jubilee, but headier and easier. All the decadent flavor, none of the scary open flames, and it can be made ahead and reheated before serving over ice cream, cheesecake, or pound cake to your appreciative guests. If there are leftovers the next morning, it makes a self-indulgent breakfast over yogurt.
This is hardly an inexpensive dessert, since sour cherries and good port are going to cost you, but in the sense that it used up a bottle I’d otherwise have had to dispose of when we move, I think it qualifies as frugal!
Sour Cherries in Port
Serves at least 8 generously
1-2 quarts sour cherries, pitted
1 1/4 cup sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Pinch of salt
1 cup port, plus sufficient extra to make 3 cups of liquid with the cherry juices
1 3-inch cinnamon stick
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
In a large bowl, combine the sugar, cornstarch and salt. Stir in the cherries and 1 cup of port, cover with plastic wrap, and leave to macerate for 30 minutes.
Drain the cherries into a colander set over a large glass measuring cup, then set cherries aside. Add additional port to make 3 cups of liquid and pour into a saucepan with the cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add cherries to the pan and return to a simmer, cooking 10 more minutes, until sauce has thickened and cherries are softened.
Remove from the heat, take out the cinnamon, and stir in the almond extract. Cool to slightly warm or room temperature before serving, or refrigerate until needed.
I had just one quart of sour cherries, which produces about a two-to-one port sauce to cherries ratio, but if you’re feeling extravagant, two quarts of cherries would be ideal.
The port I used up was an unusual Malbec-based one from Sonoma, but a regular good ruby port should be fine as long as it’s not syrupy-sweet. You could also revert to the dry red wine of the original recipe.
Outside the evanescent season for fresh sour cherries, you could make this with frozen or jarred sour cherries in juice (not syrup). I’m afraid that using regular cherries would probably result in a sickly sauce, but you’re certainly welcome to try and let me know.