Pitting cherries must be one of the messiest jobs in the kitchen, but it is oh so worth it. I’m not very conscientious about wearing an apron, but this is one occasion when I swathe myself in my most voluminous apron, cover the table with newspaper, and settle down to a curiously relaxing session of pitting. We’ve eaten a lot of cherries this season – mainly because back in May I was irresistibly tempted by a 2-kg crate of cherries in a Spanish venta for only 5.60 euros. I got home wondering how on earth two of us were going to eat them all before they rotted. My new cookbook, The Real Taste of Spain, provided an answer: cherry compote. A monster, messy pitting session followed, especially as I had no cherry pitter to hand.
This recipe is so simple to do, and words cannot describe how delicious it is. For a week, our breakfast was a spoonful or two of this with dollops of Greek yoghurt, and we mourned when we scraped out the last few drops of syrup from the bowl. From then on we constantly looked out for affordable cherries, and whenever we found some, we bought at least a kilo to make some compote. The last batch is now in the freezer in several plastic boxes so that we can spin out the pleasure over the summer. So my advice is, if you make this, make plenty, it freezes really well. It goes with all sorts of things: with ice cream for an extra-special Cherries Jubilee, with yoghurt or cream, or spooned over an almond cake, for example.
Note: if you double the quantities, don’t double the amount of sugar and water, just leave it the same. The cherries will produce lots of lovely juice anyway.
500-600 g ripe cherries, pitted
100 ml water
150 g sugar
100 ml guignolet or cherry brandy (optional)
Put the cherries in a pan with the sugar and water. If you have some guignolet (a cherry-flavoured aperitif wine) or cherry brandy, you can add some, but it doesn’t really need it. Simmer very gently, uncovered, for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally. The cherries should be tender and glossy but still whole, and the juice syrupy. If the juice is still quite liquid when the cherries are done, remove the cherries with a slotted spoon and boil the liquid vigorously for 5 minutes or so, till it is thick and glossy. Then pour over the cherries. Store the compote in the fridge, where it will keep a couple of weeks (probably – it never lasts that long in our house) and serve either chilled or at room temperature.