In terms of nostalgia, cherries are it for me – I have abiding memories of sitting in our garden in Australia, eating huge boxes of them with my brother and sister until we felt like bursting. At home they straddle the Christmas season; we were invariably on our school holidays and just coming back from the beach. To me, they mean big blue skies and lazy summer days. I like to leave the stones in for all these recipes except the granita – just remember to tell your guests to look out for them!
Skye Gyngell is head chef at Petersham Nurseries, Richmond, Surrey, tel: 020 8605 3627, petershamnurseries.com
1kg/2lb ripe, sweet cherries
400ml/14fl oz good-quality brandy, such as an aged apple brandy
125g/4oz caster sugar
120ml/4fl oz water
Remove the stems, wash the cherries, and lay them out to dry on a clean cloth.
Pour the brandy into a small saucepan and add the sugar and water. Heat gently to dissolve the sugar and warm the liquor.
Pack the cherries loosely into a large, sterilised jar. Pour the brandy over the cherries, making sure the fruit is totally submerged in the alcohol. Seal and store in a cool dark place for a week to allow the flavours to develop, then store in the fridge. To serve, gently warm in a pan then spoon over vanilla ice-cream.
Clafoutis is a French tart made with a simple batter. The cherries should be cooked just until they burst, so that the batter becomes soaked in an irresistible and not-too-sweet juice.
40g/1 oz unsalted butter
600g/21oz sweet cherries, washed and stems removed
100g/3 oz caster sugar
tsp ground cinnamon
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed lemon
2 whole eggs, separated
3 tbsp caster sugar
75g/3oz plain flour
75g/3oz ground almonds
1 tsp vanilla extract
100ml/3 fl oz double cream
Pinch of sea salt
Wash and pat dry the cherries, then remove the stems. Melt the butter in a small saucepan over a medium heat. When it is foaming (but not browned), add the cherries, sugar, cinnamon and lemon zest. Cook gently for 10 minutes or until the cherries are soft, stirring gently from time to time. The juices should have reduced and thickened slightly. Remove from the heat. Using a slotted spoon, spoon two-thirds of the fruit over the bottom of a shallow, 23cm round baking tin; reserve the rest of the cherries in the juice for serving.
Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6. Beat the egg yolks and three tablespoons of sugar in a large bowl k until light and fluffy. Beat in the flour, ground almonds, vanilla extract and cream. In a separate, clean bowl, whisk the egg whites with a pinch of salt until they form soft peaks. Now carefully fold the whisked whites into the batter until they are evenly incorporated, then pour the mixture over the cherries. Bake on the top shelf of the oven for 20 minutes until the batter is puffed and golden-brown.
Let the clafoutis cool slightly for 5 minutes or so before serving, top with the reserved cherries and juice.
When summer arrives and the fruit is sweet, a granita is a better showcase than a sorbet – the sugar content needed is lower, so the fruit tastes more of itself.
Serves 6 -8
1 kg/3lb ripe, sweet cherries
400g/13oz caster sugar
250ml/8fl oz water
Small pinch of sea salt
Squeeze of lemon juice
Wash the cherries and pat them dry, then remove the stems and stones. Tip the fruit into a food processor and purée until smooth. Pass through a sieve into a bowl and set aside.
Place sugar and water in a heavy-based pan over a medium heat. Once the sugar has dissolved, turn up the heat slightly and simmer for 3-4 minutes or until the syrup has become slightly viscous. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
When cold, pour the syrup over the puréed cherries. Add the salt, squeeze in a few drops of lemon juice and stir well to combine. Pour into a shallow freeze-proof tray – the purée should be no more than 3cm thick. Cover and place in the freezer for an hour or so.
When the granita begins to set and has firmed up around the edges, remove from the freezer and use a fork to drag the frozen crystals from the edges towards the centre. Don't beat the mixture – a granita is meant to be icy and crunchy, not smooth like a sorbet.
Return to the freezer for a further 30 minutes or so, then repeat the procedure. Now freeze until set. Store in a covered plastic container in the freezer until ready to use. To serve, scrape shavings from the granita and pile into chilled glasses.
Pickled cherries with ricotta and bresaola
The contrast of sharp, sweet cherries and smoky, delicate bresaola (air-dried, salted beef) is very pleasant: the gentle creaminess of the ricotta is needed here to link the flavours together.
Makes two 500ml/17 fl oz jars
800ml/28fl oz good-quality red-wine vinegar
1 tsp whole black peppercorns
1kg/2lb ripe cherries
Discard any blemished fruit. Dissolve the sugar in the vinegar over a low heat in a large saucepan then add the cloves and the peppercorns. Turn up the heat and simmer for 10 minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to cool. Pack the cherries loosely into two sterilised jars and pour the pickling liquid over. Seal tightly and let sit for a week before using.
To serve, allow three fine slices of bresaola per person, and add a generous tablespoon of ricotta, some watercress and 3-4 cherries alongside.