Cherry time

It was the raspberries that sold me. Deep red and rich gold, they were begging to be picked in the backyard of a house we looked at in late September. I ate two, and as we debated the pros and cons of the house I kept going back to the prospect of having more of those fresh berries every summer. We got the house, and I'm still waiting for those raspberries to ripen.

The cherries took us by surprise. We didn't know we had a cherry tree until February, when our neighbour, who had also sold us the house, told us.

Sour cherries: get 'em before the birds do. (KitAy/Flickr Creative Commons)
In the spring we watched it bloom with delicate pink petals, and it wasn't long before we saw tiny clusters of green cherries under the leaves. Gradually they got bigger, and turned yellow, and then one day last week we suddenly noticed that some of them were almost red.

Someone else noticed, too: a robin, sitting on the power line and eyeing the reddening cherries. We imagined that the song she trilled was telling all her robin friends about the bounty on our tree. So on the weekend we borrowed two nets offered by our neighbour (the cherry tree was no longer his, after all, and he had no use for them) to drape over the lower branches in hopes of saving some of the fruit for ourselves.

Many of the cherries are now a bright scarlet, perhaps a day or two away from optimal ripeness. But after spying a greedy grackle in our tree yesterday, sitting on a branch and casually pecking at the fruit between the holes of the net, we decided the harvest should begin now. This morning I picked a bowlful of them before leaving for work, and of course I had to taste them. They must be what are known as sour cherries, but the word hardly describes them. They're not sweet, but not tart either, with a firm yet yielding yellow flesh interior and a pit that comes out easily. Perfect, in other words.

So now I've got to bake a sour cherry pie, for which I am determined to overcome my aversion to making pastry. But there are a lot more cherries than just a pie's worth, even if the birds eat their fill. I'm going to try a clafouti recommended by a friend, but I'm looking for more good ideas to make the most of my cherry crop.

What do you do with fresh sour cherries? And what's the best way to pit them? Please share your recipes!