Monday morning rolled around here cool and grey, weather that was at odds with the days first job (if you can call it that…). Tom and I were visiting Mr John Cantrill, cherry grower from Nashdale, to pick our first cherries of the season.
To me, cherries mean summer, Christmas, car trips to the beach and treats. So to be picking them in jumpers on a misty morning seemed a bit odd. “Yep, it’s been a cool start to the season,” John says, “and that’s slowed the ripening process down a bit.” Nevertheless, John reckons this year is going to be a cracker of a cherry season, “yield is down a bit so prices may be a bit higher, but the quality is excellent.” Perfect seasonal conditions in the last few months are to be credited for this bump in quality; mostly dry with a little bit of rain here and there and not too hot, John explains.
The first variety to ripen in our area and the season’s welcome harbinger are Merchant cherries. John’s family farm has thousands of them, his first delivery to local stores was yesterday and pickers are now officially on the job. “We’ll pick now right through to Christmas, first the Merchants then the Lapin cherries,” John says.
The Cantrill family have been orchardists here in Orange for generations, and John is one of the most respected and experienced cherry growers we have. He’s also a really lovely man and happy to open the orchard up on weekends for families and individuals to come along and pick their own cherries. Tom and I had a great morning there on Monday (we even took morning tea, the dark chocolate and cherry cakes with custard pictured above), and will definitely be back to pick for Christmas presents (and our own kitchen).
For directions and more information please call John directly (0418 650 235). See you there!
Dark chocolate cherry and almond cakes
These are beautiful little cakes that last and travel well. You could swap the cherries with berries and the dark chocolate with white if you like. And if you have the time and inclination, the left over egg yolks go nicely into the below custard, which in turn, goes very nicely with the cakes. Win win. Makes 12 little cakes.
150g butter, melted
6 egg whites
1/2 tsp vanilla paste
125g almond meal
200g icing sugar
80g plain flour (or rice flour if gluten free)
3/4 cup cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
3/4 cup dark chocolate, roughly chopped
Preheat oven to 180C and line a 12-hole muffin tin with paper cases. Place the butter, egg whites and vanilla in a large bowl and whisk together. Add remaining ingredients and stir until just combined. Divide between prepared cases and bake for 25-30 minutes or until golden on top and firm to touch. Let cool on a wire rack and serve with cherries and custard.
A classic custard recipe slightly adapted from Skye Gyngell’s offering in her wonderful book ‘A year in my kitchen’. Makes about 2 cups.
150mls whole milk
1 tsp vanilla paste
6 egg yolks
120g caster sugar
Combine the milk, cream and vanilla in a medium saucepan and bring just to boiling point. Remove from heat and let cool a very little. Whisk together the yolks and sugar until pale then add a little of the hot milk mixture to the yolks and whisk again, add the rest of the hot milk/cream and whisk. Return the lot to the saucepan over medium-low heat and cook, stirring constantly, for about five minutes or until the mixture thickens a little (be careful not to overcook and ‘scramble’ the yolks). Pour into a jug and keep in the fridge (where it will thicken further) until needed.