Nothing says summer as much as stone fruit. I’m an arch-locavore but my much-anticipated first taste of stone fruit isn’t local. No apologies. Al and Becky Courchesne at Frog Hollow Farms in Brentwood in the Sacramento Delta, growers of some of the best, if not the best fruit, in the country, have generously gotten in the habit of scheduling a box of their fruit, whatever is peaking, to arrive at my doorstep every Friday afternoon.
The first week it was 23 Brix Bing cherries.
The first thing I do with the cherries, or any Frog Hollow fruit, is, using a refractometer, measure the Brix which is a measurement of the percentage of sugar in the fruit. Photosynthesis, or the manufacture of glucose, is the plant’s job. High Brix indicates successful plants and good orchard management. High Brix also means superior varietal flavor. Glucose is the chemical building block for everything manufactured by the plant.
Then arrived 23-27 Brix amber-red Rainier cherries. While I have known 30 Brix Rainiers, 23 to 27 Brix is angel territory.
The marketing and PR work I did for Frog Hollow farms a decade back has developed into a sweet relationship. My blog fell asleep a few months ago. It is waking up, I promise. Rainier cherries are as good a place for the resurrection as any.
Curiously, the yellow-fleshed Rainier cherry is a cross between two red-fleshed varieties: the bing and the Van. It was developed at WSU in 1952. Rainiers are a sweet, low acid fruit much favored by Asian palates. Large premium grade Rainiers bring top dollar in Japan. Cargo jets are loaded with the best of our Washinton cherries at airstrips almost at the edge of the orchards. The Japanese are sticklers for quality. They look for large, firm fruit with the rosy blush that indicates sweetness. With Rainiers, the darker the red, the sweeter the cherry, at least that is my experience.
The Rainier is fragile. Many orchards start picking at dawn to preserve firmness, an essential quality characteristic. A soft cherry was likely picked in the heat. Firmness is easily maintained by picking early in the day and getting the fruit into refrigeration and keeping it there.
The sure-fire indicator of freshness is green stems.
The stored cherries will lose some moisture over time which concentrates sweetness. A brown-stemmed cherry eats well as long as it is still firm, but it won’t have the crisp, vibrant appearance or taste of a fresh cherry.
Cherries firm up concentrating sugars and flavors when chilled. I heard Sally Schneider recommend on the Splendid Table putting cherries in ice water for five minutes before serving. A wrinkle on that theme learned from sushi master and good friend, Shiro Kashiba of Shiro’s Sushi in Seattle, is simply presenting cherries topped with ice cubes in an attractive serving bowl and giving them a few minutes to chill thoughly in the melting ice.