My Search for Sour Cherries

Every year for the past 5 or 6 years I've made a decision to find fresh sour cherries in the Bay Area. It has never happened for me. I've either missed it by a week, or no one knows anyone who grows them. So this year, I decided to start early. Very early. And do a lot of research. First, however, I'll take a step back and offer up a few facts.

Also called tart or "pie" cherries, the most popular variety of sour cherries grown in the United States is the Montmorency. They are harvested in the hot summer month of July. And while they are primarily grown in Michigan and New York, there are surely other sour cherry farmers sprinkled throughout the U.S. Sour cherries are quite easy to find in Europe. Just walk down any street in Paris in the summer and the produce bins are spilling over with sour cherries. That doesn't help me. Who is going to go to Paris and bake a cherry pie? Okay, maybe I'll have to resort to this, but for now, I've decided that I need to find them closer to home.

My pursuit was rekindled recently when I came across a jar of Bulgarian sour cherries in light syrup. I used them in a delicious cherry tart (see the recipe below). But instead of quelling the fire, it just stoked it further. A jar of cherries shipped halfway across the world is just not the same as using the real thing. I started asking farmers at the market (no luck). I emailed CUESA, the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture, which manages the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers' Market (still haven't heard back, I'll let you know what I hear). I googled SF sour cherries, Bay Area sour cherries, west coast sour cherries? I searched the internet. I asked friends. I started looking into planting a tree. They are difficult to keep alive. Okay, so I'm a little obsessive.

So now I need your help. I've only got 4 1/2 months. Do you know someone who grows sour cherries? Can you hook me up?

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Sour Cherry Tart

FOR THE DOUGH
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 egg yolk
5-7 tablespoons ice cold water

FOR THE FILLING
2 large jars Bulgarian sour cherries in light syrup (you should have about 3 heaping cups of cherries without juice)*
1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar

1 egg, well beaten
Sugar for sprinkling

To make the dough, put the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is about the size of large peas. Stir in the egg yolk and water with a spoon. Dump the mixture onto a work surface and knead just until the dough comes together. Form into a disk, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out 2/3 of the dough and line a 9-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom, letting the excess dough hang over the edge. Roll the rolling pin over the edge. Add the dough scraps to the remaining dough and roll into a rectangle, about 10 inches long and 8 inches wide. Cut out about 10 strips of equal width.

Drain the cherries, saving about 1/2 cup of juice. Put the cherries into a bowl. Mix the reserved juice with the flour and strain over the cherries. Stir in the sugar. Pour the cherries into the lined tart, making an even layer. Place 5 of the dough strips, evenly spaced, over the top of the tart. Place the remaining 5 strips perpendicular to the first 5 strips. Using a pastry brush, brush the dough strips with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the tart until golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 50 minutes. If the top crust starts to get too brown, cover it loosely with a sheet of foil. Let cool slightly on a wire rack before serving. Serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

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*Please don't use canned cherries. Ick. If you are lucky, you might find frozen sour cherries, but don't hold your breath.

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