Sweet Cherries in Spiced Syrup

I'm not one to dole out lots of unsolicited parenting advice, but hear this: there are very good, fun, smart kitchen projects you can do with small children. Aaannnnd...then there's pitting pounds of cherries together. My kitchen still looked like a crime scene several days later. Oh, well. I tried. Back to the television for you, offspring!

Finding summer activities for kids can feel a whole lot like hitting your head against a brick wall, and judging by the onslaught of emails in my inbox from parenting websites giving me all sorts of "Top 10 Super Fun Summer Outings!", I know I'm not alone in struggling to find something to do other than letting Buzz and Woody babysit again. But I am going to go ahead and guess that it's a little easier for people who do not house their children in the city of San Francisco. Today we went out in 55-degree drizzle, in hooded jackets. In the middle of August. Seriously, if we have one more vegetable-soup-for-lunch-again day, I just...I can't even. So we have to try and make our own summer here, whether that means driving out of the city for the day, or doing some Summer Playacting in the form of eating summer fruits. Just don't get as desperate as I did for occupying your almost-4-year-old and ask if she wants to help you pit cherries. Nothing good can come of that, I'm telling you.

Pitting lots of cherries at once isn't for those lacking patience or a love for the kind of kitchen work that makes you feel very Farmer's Wife. Which is to say it can be either oddly relaxing--like shuckin' corn or stringin' beans--or it can all be a big hot mess. Either way, you really can't argue with the end result of having a huge bowl of pitless cherries to shove in your face without the fear of breaking a crown--it's a bowl of summer joy. It can also be pretty inspiring. Shall we encase them in pastry? Booze 'em up somehow? Spin them into a sorbet or ice cream? Or what about giving them a quick simmer, spicing them up (literally), and then serving them OVER ice cream? Ooooooh. There's not much cherry-eating time left this summer, friends. Let's make the most of it!

Sweet Cherries in Spiced Syrup

The intensity of the spice here all depends on how long you leave the whole spices in the mix. You can remove them after the initial 15 minutes of steeping and serve it right away over ice cream, or just pour the whole lot into a storage container and let the flavors blossom in the fridge.

If you're feeling especially crafty, this would be a great candidate for canning and giving as an edible gift.

And if you find yourself with a hankering for cherries when they're not in season, I suppose thawed frozen cherries would fit the bill just fine, though I'd guess that they'd break down a bit more during cooking than fresh cherries.

1/4 cup granulated sugar 1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice 1 tablespoon water 1 star anise 1/2 cinnamon stick 1/2 vanilla bean, split lengthwise 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg 3 or 4 black peppercorns Pinch of salt 2 cups fresh whole sweet cherries, stemmed and pitted

In a small saucepan, stir together the sugar, lemon juice, and water. Add the star anise, cinnamon stick, vanilla bean, nutmeg, peppercorns, and salt. Add the cherries and stir to combine. Place the pot over high heat, and stirring often, cook until the syrup comes to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and cook uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the fruit has softened and has just started to break down a bit, 5 to 6 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat and cover. Let steep and cool for about 15 minutes, or longer if you want a more intensely spiced syrup. Scrape and remaining vanilla caviar from the pod and add it to the syrup, discarding the pod. Fish out the cinnamon stick, star anise, and peppercorns and discard. Serve slightly warm over vanilla ice cream, or transfer to an airtight container or jar and refrigerate for up to 3 weeks (maybe more).

FruitShauna Sever