My Cherries Amour

My Cherries Amour
Cherry Jelly. Photo: Louis Pieterse

James Dean – Jimmy if you prefer – remains one of the most romantic figures in the movies even decades after his death in a terrible motor accident in September 1955. The movie star had no idea just how short his life would be when he said: ‘Life is an ice cream sundae, with all the marvellous coverings. Sex is the cherry on top.’ This Valentine’s Week (why not?), Daily Maverick’s Thank God It’s Food pages and newsletter are bringing you, not strawberries, but cherries. Let’s see if we can pop a few.

Cherries abound in romantic songs, saucy rhymes, and just plain sweet poems.

UB40’s reggae number Cherry, Oh Baby is a pure love-gush (about which more in the accompanying GastroTurf column). Or take a bite of KT Tunstall’s splendid early Noughties rocker Black Horse and the Cherry Tree, or the in-your-face Cherry Bomb (The Runaways, Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, among others). Basically any conservative dad’s nightmare, that last one.

There are cherries on Netflix at the moment too, and they’re being popped all over the place, in a British series called Sex Education, and if you think it’s one to skip past – spotty teens, rowdy schoolgrounds et al – you’d be missing something that’s way better than just a silly teen drama. Okay, there is lots of turning on in the series (although there’s a tongue-in-cheek quality to much of the sex), but behind all that is a brilliant human story, a school shed load of endearing characters and some less than endearing, and a great one to binge watch in this sensual season. And that woman at the centre of it all, the mother of our teen boy hero, is Gillian Anderson. I barely recognised her; and what a gobsmackingly good performance.

But cherries are somewhat less romantic if you assess them by their Wikipedia description: “A cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus Prunus, and is a fleshy drupe (stone fruit).” Nobody wants to encounter a fleshy drupe, especially if suddenly encountering one in a dark alley in the pry of night, such a passion-killer. If we had to assess every food type according to its Wikipedia description we’d all just give up fresh fruit and eat prunes. Or fleshy drupes.

Trying to find the joyful, or at least the vaguely satisfied, lore of the cherry on Wikipedia delivers such delights as “Cherries were introduced into England at Teynham, near Sittingbourne in Kent, by order of Henry VIII, who had tasted them in Flanders”; that “common rootstocks include Mazzard, Mahaleb, Colt, and Gisela Series, a dwarfing rootstock”, and that, like almost every other fruit and vegetable it seems, the cherry originates in Turkey. Of course it does. There’s no mention of the prevalence and lore of cherries in Far Eastern cultures. Which is odd. Then again, in Widipedia’s scan of “the world”, Africa is nowhere in it. Of course it isn’t.

Best we go to Shakespeare for something less soporific.

Oh, the twyning cherries shall their sweetness fall upon thy tasteful lips

Now that’s more like it. It’s from The Two Noble Kinsmen which is attributed to both Shakespeare and John Fletcher, and its plot is described succinctly by the Royal Shakespeare Company:

Two best friends, knights at arms, are captured in battle and imprisoned. From their window they see a beautiful woman and both fall instantly in love with her, turning from intimate friendship to jealous rivalry in the space of a minute.” Now read the Shakespeare verse again. That’s pretty saucy.

Let’s flit to Robert Graves for his poem Cherry-Time:

Cherries of the night are riper
Than the cherries pluckt at noon
Gather to your fairy piper
When he pipes his magic tune

Merry merry
Take a cherry
Mine are sounder
Mine are rounder
Mine are sweeter
for the eater
under the moon
And you’ll be fairies soon

But it’s his second verse that describes a cherry best:

In the cherry pluckt at night
With the dew of summer swelling
There’s a juice of pure delight
Cold, dark, sweet, divinely smelling

Conversely, trust Dorothy Parker to see a little darkness in a cherry, in her little parody:

Cherry White

I never see that prettiest thing
A cherry-bough gone white with spring
But that I think ‘How gay t’would be
to hang me from a flowering tree’

But back to Cherry, Oh Baby, which though known now as a UB40 hit, was first recorded in 1971 by one Eric Donaldson, and covered by the Rolling Stones in 1976. Donaldson’s original lyrics, quaintly, were:

Oh Cherry, oh Cherry, oh baby
Don’t you know I’m in need of thee?

So the cover becomes better known than the original. (The Stones were, when they started out, a cover band, as were the Beatles.) Each cover’s lyrics are tweaked a little, but the essence remains the same. Just like when you cook with a cherry. Or pop one in your mouth.

Cherry Chocolate Tart

Macerated cherries:

2 cups pitted cherries (either bottled, tinned, or fresh when in season)
80ml Cointreau liqueur
1 heaped Tbs castor sugar


180g cake flour
2 heaped Tbs cocoa powder
100g chilled butter cut into cubes
2 Tbs castor sugar
Yolk of 1 large egg
2 Tbs cold milk


250ml cream
200g x 70% cocoa solids chocolate
1 tsp vanilla essence
2 jumbo egg yolks, beaten

Halve and pit the cherries and macerate them for four hours in the liqueur and castor sugar. (Later, before continuing to make the tart, strain them into a container, reserving the liquor.)

Sift the flour and cocoa together into a large bowl. Rub the butter in with your hands until it resembles breadcrumbs. Stir in the castor sugar.

Stir in the egg yolk and milk and form the pastry into a ball with your hands. If the mixture is too wet, sift in a little more flour in to get the balance right. You’ll know when it’s a perfect ball of pastry. Flatten it and wrap in cling film and refrigerate for 45 minutes.

Roll out the pastry into a round and place over a 24cm round tart dish. Use your fingers to massage it to the edges evenly and up the sides. Prick the base with a fork several times. Cut a piece of grease proof paper to fit in the dish, overlapping the edges. Pour in baking beans and bake in a preheated 180-degree oven for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven, remove the paper and beans, and bake for another 10 minutes. Allow to cool a little.

Heat 250ml cream in a saucepan only to a simmer. Remove from the heat and break up 200g dark chocolate. Stir this into it with a wooden spoon until all the chocolate has melted. Stir in the vanilla essence. Stir 1 Tbs of the reserved cherry liquor into the chocolate.

Beat the eggs lightly. Pour a little of the hot chocolate sauce into the beaten eggs while whisking vigorously. Pour this back into the hot sauce, whisking until combined. Keep it on the heat for a minute, stirring, to give the sauce extra body and voluptuousness.

Spoon the cherries into the pastry base. Pour the chocolate sauce over. Bake for 20 minutes in the 180-degree oven. Remove, cool and then refrigerate.

Cherry Jelly

1 cup / 250ml cherries (bottled, tinned or fresh when in season), pitted and halved
250 castor sugar
500ml cold water
3 teaspoons powdered gelatine

Bring the cherries, castor sugar and water to a boil and reduce to simmer for 5 minutes. Cool to room temperature. Pour 125ml of the liquid into a bowl and heat. Whisk in 3 Tsp powdered gelatine. Whisk vigorously until fully dissolved. If there are still some crystals which doggedly refuse to dissolve, hold the pot over a little heat while continuing to whisk. Add the remainder of the cooled liquid and cherries. Pour into individual glasses, being sure the cherries are shared equally. Set in the fridge. The cherries will float on top. DM


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