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Cherry meringue

Cherry meringue: A great way to make use of Flathead cherries.

Living in Montana, one of the things to look forward to about summer is the beginning of the season for the large dark sweet cherries from the Flathead Valley. Cherries were first grown in the valley in 1893, and it was found the temperature, well-drained soil and type of growing season were perfect for their production. The cherries are sold not only in Montana, but in markets throughout the U.S.

Since the cherries ripen later than those in neighboring states, they are available when other areas have finished their season. Some of the Flathead Valley cherry growers also use their cherries to produce specialty products such as jams and jellies, syrups, and wine, which are available on the market. Enjoy the cherries by eating them fresh, but if you would like to find a variety of recipes using the Flathead Valley cherries, check out the Flathead Cherry Growers Association website. Also plan to preserve the cherries to enjoy throughout the winter by freezing or preserving them in other ways.

The following dessert recipe I have adapted from a recipe I found in the “Pillsbury Best of the Bake-Off Collection”. The original recipe calls for canned tart cherries but I have revised it using fresh sweet cherries. The cookie crust, sprinkled with pecans, has a border of meringue and is filled with a cooked cherry filling. It looks impressive and tastes delicious as well.

Sweet Cherry Meringue Dessert

(Servings: 8 – 10)

Ingredients:

1¼ cups all-purpose flour

½ teaspoon baking powder

¼ teaspoon salt

1/3 cup margarine or butter

1/3 cup sugar

2 egg yolks

1 tablespoon milk

½ cup chopped pecan (separated)

2 pounds sweet cherries, pitted (about 5 cups)

½ cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch

¼ cup water

½ teaspoon almond extract

2 egg whites

¼ cup sugar

Directions:

Place the pitted cherries in a medium-sized saucepan and add the ½ cup sugar. Mix thoroughly; let sit, stirring occasionally, while preparing the crust so juices can form. To make the cookie crust, using a mixer, cream softened butter or margarine. Add the ½ cup sugar, creaming well. Blend in the egg yolks and milk; beat well. Combine the flour, baking powder and salt; add all at once to butter/sugar/egg mixture. Beat well. Stir until mixture forms a dough. Press mixture into bottom of well-greased 9-inch round layer pan. Remove 2 tablespoons chopped pecans from ½ cup pecans and reserve for meringue topping. Sprinkle remainder over cookie dough. Bake at 375 degrees for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool thoroughly. To make cherry filling, stir cornstarch into ¼ cup water until dissolved. Stir cornstarch mixture into cherries; mix well. Cook over medium to low heat, stirring frequently, until mixture comes to a simmer. Cook until thickened and cherries are tender. Remove from heat. Add almond extract. Cool thoroughly. Carefully transfer the cooled cookie circle to a baking sheet. To make meringue, Beat 2 egg whites until soft peaks form. Add ¼ cup sugar gradually, beating well after each addition. Beat until meringue stands in stiff straight peaks. Drop meringue by tablespoonsful around edge of cookie circle; sprinkle with reserved pecans. Bake at 350 for 12 to 15 minutes. Cool completely. To serve, fill center with the chilled cherry filling. If desired top with a dollop of whipped cream.

Cherries are reconsidered as pickles in this dark, sweet, and spicy recipe. Toss these in salads, on cheese plates, and in cocktails.

Pickled Cherries

(Makes about 7 ½-pint jars)

Ingredients:

2½ cups white vinegar (5% acidity)

2 cups sugar

2 tablespoons salt for pickling and preserving

1 vanilla bean, split

7 whole cloves

7 star anise

7 cinnamon sticks (3-inch)

2¼ pounds fresh dark, sweet cherries, washed, stemmed, and pitted

Directions:

Stir together the first 3 ingredients in a medium stainless steel or enamel saucepan. Scrape seeds from vanilla bean; add seeds and bean to vinegar mixture. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar and salt dissolve. Place 1 clove, 1 star anise, and 1 cinnamon stick into a hot jar. Pack cherries tightly into jar, leaving ½-inch head space (about 12 cherries). Remove vanilla bean from pan, discard. Ladle hot pickling liquid over cherries, leaving ½-inch head space. Remove air bubbles. Wipe jar rim. Center lid on jar; apply band and adjust to fingertip-tight. Place jar in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled. Process jars 10 minutes, adjusting processing time for altitude. Remove lid and let jars stand 5 minutes. Remove jars and cool. Source: “The All New Ball Book of Canning and Preserving”, 2016.

Bernie Mason has written the Local Flavor column for the Billings Gazette for three years or so. She was Yellowstone County extension agent for 24 years. Mason grew up in Sidney in a family of German and Danish ancestry.

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