And so, there comes a point in every person’s life when she must decide, once and for all, whether cooked cherries can have a part in her baking repertoire. For me, that point came last week. Except for the earliest parts of my youth, I’ve never loved the flavor. I eschew the cherry Starbursts and Tootsie Roll pops for orange and grape. And I know what you’ll say — those candies aren’t really made with cherries. But the cloying disaster of them tainted their value for me for too long. Even maraschino cherries topping drinks and chocolate-covered ones falsely promising balance are a no-go. Everything just tastes like syrup.
It wasn’t until several years ago that I even started enjoying cherries raw. I remember that first day well: I was hanging out with my old friend Lorraine on a sunny summer day in one of the parks in our hometown. We sat on the bleachers next to one of the baseball fields, catching up, eating black cherries and seeing how far we could spit the pits. And yes, we were in our 20s. The cherries were sweet, but had a hint of acidity to give them brightness. And the pits, instead of being a burden, as I had always thought they were, became the carefree definition of summer.
So cherries have become a regular character in my warm weather novella, playing a supporting role to peaches, strawberries, and blueberries, but a critical role nonetheless. In one of our hottest Mays on record, I’ve been craving those summer bounties, which, for now, still seem like delicacies until our local orchards can catch up after our long, cold winter. So on one of those hot days, along with a pint of blueberries for my Sunday blueberry pancakes, I picked up a giant bag of sweet, ripe cherries.
I love biscotti. Twice baked, it’s the adult version of our childhood nostalgia: crunchy sweetness best dipped before being devoured. Instead of a glass of milk, though, those little bars are beautiful with a latte, a cup of tea, a mug of hot chocolate. It’s breakfast, it’s dessert, it’s your sophisticated milk-and-cookies before bed.
The problem is, though, that too often, biscotti are a little too crunchy — or rather, uncrunchably hard. I once made a recipe that was so hard, I actually realigned my jaw trying to bite into one after years of it being nearly imperceptibly, but rather painfully misaligned. Though most of my friends refused to touch it, I claimed it a medical victory. But you never want friends to avoid your baking, no matter how it might accidentally give you some mandibular relief. I am no doctor — it’s not a method I would necessarily advise to anyone. Truth be told, I was lucky I didn’t break a tooth or five.
Until the last week of August, summer in NYC was feeling a lot more like early fall. Sixty-three degree mornings that made you want to jump out of bed for an early morning run; temperatures plummeting overnight, saving your electric bill with open windows and your stomachs from takeout – I actually turned my oven to 550 degrees for a considerable amount of time over three nights to make pizza. Even the warmer days were cool: we finally hit that moment when, despite the thermostat calling out 85, breezes felt like they were coming overland from Canada, unsheathed from ice. It was respite. It was relief. It was the coming of cinnamon and scarves and spices.
Of course, summer returned with a vengeance, two days after two friends, during a 15-mile, multi-borough training run, hoped aloud that we would get some heat to make fall marathon training easier. Thanks, guys. Several days hit the lower 90s. Were there breezes? I have no idea. I think they were stuck somewhere in the swimming pool that became the atmosphere.