The gorgeous Rainier Cherries that I picked last weekend at a local orchard begged for a light treatment. Their blushing yellow complexion and sweet, succulent flesh did not deserve to be cooked into pickles or jam that would just turn them brown and ordinary. As ordinary as cherries ever are! They’ll oxidize no matter what, but I thought that a simple poaching would be the best course to maintain their integrity. I can’t say that these are actually poached since I didn’t cook the cherries, but rather poured warm liquid over them and let them cure in the refrigerator for a few days.
Picking up on a preparation of Thomas Keller’s in Ad Hoc at Home (a very practical, down-to-earth volume, by the way, from a chef known as a virtuoso), I burned the alcohol off a jigger of rum, and added it to simple syrup (sugar and water) with vanilla beans. Lightly cooled and poured over the cherries, the syrup was as delicious as the fruit, which we served as a lightly chilled compote. It keeps for a few weeks, but any cherries that are not fully immersed will turn brown.
This would ordinarily seem to be an extravagant use of vanilla beans, but I just received an annual bulk order since it’s coming up on the time to make homemade vanilla extract so that I’ll be ready for the fall and winter holidays. Don’t discard the beans when you’re finished with the cherries. At the least, they can be inserted into a jar of sugar to flavor it.
Potted Rainier Cherries with Vanilla and Rum adapted from Thomas Keller
1 lb Rainier cherries, with stems
1/3 c light rum
1 c water
1 c sugar
2 vanilla beans
Wash the cherries and cut the stems to ¾ inch long. Place the cherries loosely in a jar, taking care not to press them down.
Heat the rum in a medium saucepan and light it with a match, allowing the alcohol to burn off slightly. Add the water and sugar.
Cut the vanilla beans in half crosswise, and then split them lengthwise, scraping the seeds into the liquid and sugar mixture and adding the pods.
Bring to a simmer and cook for two minutes. Remove from the heat and let the mixture steep for 30 minutes.
Remove the vanilla beans and add them to the cherries. Pour the liquid over the over the prepared cherries, cap the jar, let it cool and refrigerate. Use within two weeks or so.