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Season's first cherries delicious in a spring compote

Recipe: The sweet fruit is paired with blanched almonds

Red cherries
Yay, it's cherry season! These are Brooks cherries. (Photos:
Kathy Morrison)

Sweet cherries are so good by themselves that it almost seems a waste to cook them. Anytime I've put them in a quick bread or muffin, I've been disappointed; the bright cherry flavor seems muted. A clafoutis features the fruit better but it requires -- oh, no -- turning on the oven. (Yes, it's getting hot out there, folks, and it's only mid May.)

This compote, a new recipe from the New York Times, struck me as a better way to go. It serves as a fancy dessert, or the start of one, but requires only stovetop cooking time and some refrigerator chill. There is the pitting to do, but my little plunger-pitter made that go fairly fast.

Blanched almonds in a glass cup
These almonds were home-blanched. Some patience, or several
pairs of hands, is required.

Blanched whole almonds are the other half of the dish, and if you don't mind some tedious work slipping off the almond skins, they are worth doing at home. (Hint: Get some kids to help -- they'll enjoy squirting the soaked almonds from their rough skins.) Or buy whole blanched almonds if you can find them. Blanched slivered almonds will give the dish a different texture, but they work as a substitute.

I found some gorgeous Brooks cherries at one of the local farm stands to use in this recipe. Brooks are early-season cherries, with a touch of tartness. They have a local pedigree, too: developed at the University of California, Davis, in the 1960s as a variety with low chilling requirements, ideal for growing in the Central Valley.

The finished chilled compote can be served by itself in fancy glass dishes, maybe with some shortbread alongside, or can be draped over poundcake or vanilla ice cream.

Note: This recipe contains liqueur, but if you prefer not to use it, substitute some orange juice.

A cherry pitter is essential equipment.
Cherry-Almond Compote

Serves 4-6

Ingredients:

1 cup whole blanched almonds (see below for how to blanch them at home)

1 pound fresh red cherries, pitted

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 tablespoons orange or almond liqueur, such as Cointreau or Amaretto

2 or 3 drops almond extract

Instructions:

If blanching the almonds yourself: Start with 1 cup whole raw almonds. Place them in a heat-safe bowl and pour enough boiling water over to cover them. Let the almonds soak about 5 minutes, then drain.

Rub the skins off while the almonds are still warm. A few will be stubborn; set those aside and try again after a few minutes.

Cherries and almonds in bowl
Whole cherries and whole almonds make a delicious light
dessert.
To make the compote: Place the pitted cherries and any juices in a wide, shallow skillet over medium heat. Sprinkle the granulated sugar over them and cook, stirring occasionally to bring the sugar crystals at the edges into the developing syrup. Cook until the cherries are heated through and the syrup is obvious and smooth, about 7-10 minutes.

Remove the skillet from the heat. Stir in the liqueur and the almond extract, then add the almonds.

Scrape the compote into a serving bowl and chill, covered, until ready to serve. Compote can be made 2 days ahead of serving.






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Dig In: Garden checklist for week of Jan. 29

Bundle up and get work done!

* Prune, prune, prune. Now is the time to cut back most deciduous trees and shrubs. The exceptions are spring-flowering shrubs such as lilacs.

* Now is the time to prune fruit trees, except apricot and cherry trees. Clean up leaves and debris around the trees to prevent the spread of disease.

* Prune roses, even if they’re still trying to bloom or sprouting new growth. Strip off any remaining leaves, so the bush will be able to put out new growth in early spring.

* Prune Christmas camellias (Camellia sasanqua), the early-flowering varieties, after their bloom. They don’t need much, but selective pruning can promote bushiness, upright growth and more bloom next winter. Feed with an acid-type fertilizer. But don’t feed your Japonica camellias until after they finish blooming next month. Feeding while camellias are in bloom may cause them to drop unopened buds.

* Clean up leaves and debris around your newly pruned roses and shrubs. Put down fresh mulch or bark to keep roots cozy.

* Apply horticultural oil to fruit trees to control scale, mites and aphids. Oils need 24 hours of dry weather after application to be effective.

* This is also the time to spray a copper-based oil to peach and nectarine trees to fight leaf curl. Avoid spraying on windy days.

* Divide daylilies, Shasta daisies and other perennials.

* Cut back and divide chrysanthemums.

* Plant bare-root roses, trees and shrubs.

* Transplant pansies, violas, calendulas, English daisies, snapdragons and fairy primroses.

* In the vegetable garden, plant fava beans, head lettuce, mustard, onion sets, radicchio and radishes.

* Plant bare-root asparagus and root divisions of rhubarb.

* In the bulb department, plant callas, anemones, ranunculus and gladiolus for bloom from late spring into summer.

* Plant blooming azaleas, camellias and rhododendrons. If you’re shopping for these beautiful landscape plants, you can now find them in full flower at local nurseries.

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