Juicy fruits: Mark Hix gets creative with versatile, delicious cherries

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Juicy British cherries are in peak season right now and they offer so many possibilities in the kitchen when used in both sweet and savoury dishes – and, of course, in drinks. Cherries have traditionally been grown in Kent, and at this time of year you will see lots of them for sale on the roadsides. But there are a few other cherry orchards dotted around the country, including the one right next door to Julian Temperley's cider brandy headquarters down in Somerset (for more information see ciderbrandy.co.uk) which supplies us with cherries that we make great use of in the restaurants after Julian has preserved them in his apple eau de vie.

I'm quite happy to have a bowl of juicy, sweet cherries instead of a pudding at a dinner party; and cherries complement both blue and goat's cheeses very well, too.

Cherry pancakes

Serves 4-6

I've used ice-cream with a few of the cherries in these pancakes, but you could also use crème fraîche if you wish.

250ml milk
120g flour
1 medium egg
1tsp caster sugar
Vegetable oil for frying
4 scoops of good quality vanilla ice-cream

For the sauce

200g cherries, stoned
150g sugar
2tbsp cherry brandy
1tsp cornflour

First make the pancakes. Whisk the flour, the egg and the teaspoon of sugar together with one-third of the milk until smooth. Whisk in the remaining milk; strain if necessary.

Heat a medium-sized non-stick frying pan, rub with a little vegetable oil, and then pour in a little pancake mix, tilting the pan immediately so that the mixture spreads evenly. Turn after one minute with a spatula or pallet knife. Continue with the rest of the mix. If you are making lots, make them in advance and stack them up between greaseproof paper then re-heat in the oven for a minute before serving.

To make the sauce, put the sugar in a saucepan with the cherry brandy and 100ml water, bring to the boil, dilute the cornflour in a little water and stir into the sauce. Simmer for a minute then remove from the heat, leave to cool a little, then add the cherries.

To serve, warm the pancakes as above, place a ball of ice-cream just off centre with a few of the cherries and fold the pancakes in half, then half again, into a triangle and place on serving plates.

Spoon the rest of the cherries and sauce over.

Venison cutlets with sweet and sour cherries

Serves 4

I was recently sent some lovely racks of venison from Donald Russell – game is a very good partner for cherries.

8 venison cutlets
A little vegetable or corn oil for brushing
25-30 cherries, halved and stoned
2-3 shallots, peeled, finely chopped
A knob of butter
1tsp flour
250ml beef stock
2tbsp red wine vinegar
1tbsp redcurrant jelly
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Gently cook the shallots in the butter for a minute, add the flour then gradually stir in the beef stock. Bring to the boil; simmer for 10 minutes. In another pan, boil the red wine vinegar and redcurrant jelly until you have about a tablespoon of liquid left; add to the sauce with the cherries. Simmer for another 5 minutes. The sauce should have thickened. If not, remove the cherries and continue to simmer the sauce until it thickens, then return the cherries to the sauce and season to taste. Preheat a ribbed griddle pan or barbecue, brush the cutlets with a little oil and season to taste. Cook for about 3 minutes on each side depending on the thickness, keeping them pink. Spoon the cherries and sauce on warmed serving plates; arrange the cutlets on top.

Cherry tart

Serves 4

This is a really simple tart to knock up for a dinner party and you can get all of the elements ready well beforehand and just assemble it and make the topping sauce just before you serve it.

250-300g cherries, stoned
40g flaked almonds
200g butter puff pastry, rolled to one-third of a centimetre thick

For the topping

2 egg yolks
60g caster sugar

Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.

Cut the puff pastry into 5-6cm x 10cm rectangles, docking them with a fork to prevent the pastry rising too much, and place on a baking tray. Bake the pastry for 10 minutes until lightly coloured and remove from the oven. Blend one-third of the cherries in a food processor to a coarse purée with the almonds and spread on to the pastry. Arrange the rest of the cherries on top. Put the egg yolks and sugar in a bowl over a pan of gently simmering water and whisk until it trebles in volume and is thick and fluffy. Return the tarts to the oven for 5 minutes to warm through, then transfer to serving plates and spoon the sauce over.

Somerset cherry sour

Serves 4

We have recently persuaded Julian Temperley to bottle his cherries in apple eau de vie in little retail jars called 'Hix Fix Cherries' so that customers can take them home from the restaurant and enjoy a Hix Fix at home – which simply consists of a couple of the cherries in a glass of champagne. I was recently experimenting in Dorset and came up with this new one for our cocktail list as I had a few fresh cherries left over.

For the syrup

500g cherries
350g granulated sugar
1ltr apple juice
For the sour
6 good measures of Somerset Cider Brandy (the 5-year-old is fine for this)
2 egg whites
The juice of 2 lemons
4tsp eau de vie from the cherries
4 cherries in Somerset eau de vie

Put the cherries in a plastic bag and crush them up a bit with a saucepan or rolling pin, then put them in a saucepan with the sugar and apple juice, bring to the boil and simmer very gently for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and leave to cool, then strain them through a fine-meshed sieve, pushing the cherries through with the back of a spoon to get the maximum juice and colour out. You can store this in a bottle in the fridge for unexpected cocktail guests dropping in.

Put the cider brandy in a cocktail shaker with the egg whites, lemon juice and eau de vie, add 200ml of the cherry syrup and shake for about 20 seconds. Pour into serving glasses and add a cherry to each one.

Mark Hix has just been awarded the Evelyn Rose Award for Cookery Journalist of the Year by the Guild of Food Writers

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