Some of you may remember the happiness that was our “Cherries Jubilee” dinner. As a refresher, the Sweet Partner in Crime and I were lucky enough to inherit a couple of cherry trees when we bought our house. These trees produced absolutely delicious pie cherries year after year. The previous owners of the house never picked the cherries, apparently. One of our cross-alley neighbors told us that her mother used to look out from the back porch and bemoan the fact that “all of those beautiful cherries are going to waste.”
Well, we certainly weren’t going to let that happen again.
Unfortunately, last year, one of the two cherry trees bit the dust. Whether it was lingering effects from the drought a few years back, disease, or that it was just its time, we had to take the old boy down, leaving one very misshapen tree.
Enter Christine the Pie Queen, her husband Jeff (whom you know from the “dinner of the month” guest column series), and a couple of their friends from Wisconsin – who just happened to own an orchard. The orchard owners agreed to come over last winter and do some tree surgery, pruning the remaining tree into a shape where it might have a change for survival. We held our breath and waited for spring.
The tree apparently survived and enjoyed its “haircut” – this year, the tree was not only extremely healthy, but produced an embarrassment of riches cherry-wise. We gave quarts and quarts away, but not before keeping enough to do another cherry dinner with Jeff & Christine.
We started with Jeff’s ”cherry cocktails.” We were a bit skeptical at first, but this mélange of citrus vodka and cava, garnished with bourbon-soaked cherries was also delightfully refreshing. This was served with an amuse-bouche of pesto-stuffed mushrooms. (Yeah, one dish without cherries…so it goes.) We lingered over these tasties for awhile before heading to the dinner table.
The Sweet Partner in Crime followed up with a fresh arugula salad with apples, toasted walnuts, goat cheese and dried cherries. We opened a bottle of Villa Maria 2008 Riesling from New Zealand to go alongside. The Riesling brought a little sweetness to set off the bitterness of the greens and the tartness of the cherries. Needless to say…yum.
We took a pause here for a palate cleanser. Christine had done a tart cherry granita, a wonderfully refreshing little palate awakener – and perfect for an evening with temperatures in the nineties.
The entrée – well, there are few things in the world that go better with cherries than duck, so we decided to prepare a quacking good course. Duck breasts with shallot and dried cherry sauce over saffron rice pilaf. We paired this with the Casa Marin 2006 Litoral Vineyard Pinot Noir. Considering the noises of sheer yummitude coming from around the table, I think the whole shebang ended up tasting pretty good. As a general rule, almost any kind of food that incorporates cherry flavors will be good with pinot noir, especially good pinot noir.
Finally, whatever sacrifices Christine made to the Pie Goddess were obviously warmly accepted, because the confection she put together was one of her best. Cherry pie. Plain and simple. And just about perfect. Alongside, a delectable dessert wine: Dashe 2007 Late Harvest Zinfandel. Neither pie nor wine lasted very long, and I opened a Frangipani 2004 Late Harvest Zinfandel to finish off the evening. It was good, but it wasn’t nearly as tasty as the Dashe. Still, by that point in the evening, going with something that didn’t require too much thought (considering our collective level of cognitive function by this point) was probably the best strategic move.
All in all, cherry-covered decadence and delightful anticipation for next year…