Continuing a series of recipes for stocking your pantry full of cherries at the peak of the season…
Reflections of three jewels in light bouncing around the kitchen in late afternoon make me smile. We have what I call “ghosts” in the house: reflections and shadows, mysterious shimmering light and ephemeral forms that appear from the darkness, observed and also sometimes captured on camera. I collect them, though rarely share. But here, among the most obvious and lucid was a simple bounce of light from the west kitchen window to the stainless steel refrigerator door to the counter where I had lined up my three most recent vinegars: chive blossom, the most fragile color of the group, violet, and the nearly opaque cherry. Their color and luminosity align with characteristic flavors. I’ve posted chive blossom vinegar and violet vinegar before, and here, in anticipation of a full-blown cherry harvest, are my most recent two attempts at cherry vinegar from last season. (I have already said that the curing takes so long and the season is so short that I don’t think it’s fair to post these ideas out of reach.)
Last year, I observed that, throughout the fall and winter, I added dried cherries to salads, pilafs and even to poultry, and I found myself spooning syrup from slightly sweet pickled cherries onto salads. So, I thought, why not make cherry vinegar? Thomas Keller, in Ad Hoc at Home, writes about steeping cherry pits in balsamic vinegar. He uses it to make potted cherries with tarragon, which I am planning on doing this year. The Thomas Keller vinegar does have lingering cherry flavors but is pretty subtle. It makes a good addition to pickled cherries, though, and I like the “waste not want not” bonus. But it lacked the robustness of pure cherries that I craved.
The other cherry vinegar – inspired by the She Simmers blog that expounds on Thai cuisine and customs — is simply great and greatly simple. You grind up pitted cherries and combine them with white balsamic vinegar (they foam, don’t worry) and let them steep. I decanted some after the ten days that She suggests, but I let most of my batch cure for longer (months) with no adverse effect. In fact, I rather liked having some of the ground up cherries to combine with other things, including adding them into salads where the vinegar is part of the dressing.
Cherry vinegar is versatile and has become a favorite in my household. I particularly like the combination of cherry vinegar and walnut oil (and a splash of light olive oil to temper), tossed with newly picked lettuces, toasted walnuts, diced steamed beets and feta cheese. I added a splash of walnut oil to the walnuts as they finished browning in a dry pan over low heat, which somehow both freshened them and added a depth of flavor.
¾ c Balsamic vinegar
Pits from 1 lb cherries
Bring the Balsamic vinegar to a boil and pour over the cherry pits. Let them steep for at least an hour before decanting the vinegar.
Cherry Vinegar adapted from the She Simmers blog
2 cups white Balsamic vinegar (basically a 17 oz bottle)
1 lb Bing cherries, pitted (yielding 2 c)
Warm the vinegar just to the simmering point, not letting it boil (which would dissipate the acidity). Let it cool 10 minutes.
Place the pitted cherries in the bowl of a food processor and grind them fine. Add half the vinegar and process until the mixture is smooth (it will be slightly foamy). Pour into a clean jar with a tight lid. Add the rest of the vinegar, cap it and shake it to combine. Store in the refrigerator for two weeks, shaking it every day. Decant the vinegar (then or later) through muslin or multiple layers of cheesecloth and finally through a coffee filter until it is completely clear.