Some time ago I found a row of four wild cherry trees just a few streets from my house and as the summer approached I kept a very watchful eye on them. Throughout June, it became apparent that they were going to produce a big crop, but I didn’t want to get my hopes up too much. This has happened before, only for a flock of birds to swoop in and scoff the lot. Don’t get me wrong, they’re perfectly entitled to, but it’s always a bit disappointing. At the end of June I went on holiday for a week just as the fruit were ripening and I thought “that’s it, they’ll be gone when I get back”; but clearly I was wrong. I returned to find three of the trees groaning under the weight of perfectly ripe cherries, and one not yet fully turned. Game on!
On the first outing, my partner and I picked 2.5kg in under an hour, just taking the ones we could reach from the ground so as to leave plenty for the birds higher up. Wild cherries are often rather sour, but these were surprisingly sweet, almost as sweet as domestic varieties, if a little smaller. Having picked over 2kg, I knew right away that I wanted to make cherry wine. Despite foraging for years I have never managed to pick enough in one go to do this, so there was no question. It had to be done. But sadly all did not go to plan. After stoning the cherries, I put them in a large plastic bowl, poured boiling water over them and losely covered them. Then I left them for a little over two days. I don’t know what I did wrong, whether I left them too long, failed to sterilise the bowl properly or let too much air in, but when I lifted the lid, the cherries were moldy! Gutted is not the word, I was devastated. However, not all the cherries went to waste as the other 500g were put to good use making wild cherry sauce – a recipe I came up with a few years ago in a failed attempt to make cherry jam:
- 500g wild cherries
- 500g granulated sugar
Wash and stone the cherries. Place them in a saucepan and mash slightly with a fork or potato masher. Gently heat until the juices begin to flow, then add the sugar. When the sugar is all dissolved, raise the heat to a rolling boil for a few minutes. Pour into sterilised jars and keep in the fridge once opened. Delicious on pancakes, porride (as pictured) or dairy-free ice cream.
Undeterred by my initial failure to make wine, I went back for more cherries a few days later. Whilst we didn’t realise it at the time, it turned out that on this occasion we picked a whopping 3.5kg of cherries, again without the assistance of ladders. This time I was taking no chances. All the wine-making equipment was perfectly sterilised, the cherries were properly washed and I watched them like a hawk for any signs of unwelcome growth. I’m glad to say that this time we had success. Here’s what I did:
- 2kg wild cherries, wasked and stoned
- 250g sultanas, chopped
- 1 kg white sugar
- 1 small cup of black tea
- 4 tbsp lemon juice
- 1 tsp pectolase
- 1 tsp yeast nutrient
- Wine yeast
Place the cherries and sultanas in a large sterilised bowl, gently mash the fruit, add the pectolase and then pour over 2 litres of boiling water. Cover tightly and leave for 24 hours. Boil another 2 litres of water and dissolve the sugar in it. Strain the cherry juice into a sterilised fermentation bin and add the boiling sugar-water, tea and lemon juice. When cool, add the yeast and yeast nutrient, cover securely and leave for five days. Syphon into a sterilised demijohn, fit an airlock and leave until it has finished fermenting before bottling, which can take as much as a year. Leave to mature for longer if possible.
But what about the other 1.5 kg, I hear you say? With that I made wild cherry and vanilla fridge jam. I’ll spare you the full recipe for that one, there are already tons of jam recipes on the web. But our haul got us about four jars and I cannot wait to give it a try!
After all that effort, I intended to rest, but whilst driving past the trees around the middle of July I noticed that the fruit on the fourth tree were now finally ripe. Well, it seemed like too good an opportunity to miss, so despite the fact that we were going away again just a few days later, I decided to make another batch of cherry wine. Despite intending to be restrained, we came home with 3kg this time. As before, 2kg went to make wine and for the final kilo, I wanted to try making a vegan version of a classic local dish – cherry batter pudding. Cherry orchards were once a common sight in Kent and people have made this dessert for centuries to use up surplus crops, but sadly most of the orchards are now gone. To be honest I didn’t really know where to start – Kentish cherry batter pudding largely involves lots of eggs and cream – but in a flash of inspiration, my girlfriend remembered that there is a very similar dessert in France called clafoutis and it didn’t take us long to find a vegan cherry clafoutis recipe. We ended up using four-times the quantity of cherries in the recipe, and doubled up on everything else, and the result was pretty damn good, I have to say.
So, all told, we ended up picking 9kg of wild cherries this year and with that we made 1 failed gallon of wine, 2 successful gallons of wine, 4 jars of jam, 2 jars of sauce and a cherry clafoutis pudding, mostly pictured below (minus the clafoutis and one jar of sauce, which had been eaten by the time the photo was taken). Either this was the best year for wild cherries ever, or I just got really lucky!