Sour Cherries and Sweet Lemons
Francis Ford Coppola cooks. And the chefs from Atomix and June cook together.
It's sour cherry season - which always makes me happy. I love their flavor, - nothing makes a better pie - and I also love the fact that their season is so fleeting. Pick them, pit them, put them in your freezer and you will have instant summer in the middle of winter.
But pitting them is - well, the pits. The easiest way to do that is with a paper clip; if you open one up, you'll have the perfect tool to just flip the pits right out. Still, it's a process.
That's what I love about this recipe; this lemonade not only tastes great, but you can make it without removing the pits. You do, however, need to remove the stems.
Start with a quart (about 2 pounds) of sour cherries, and, without removing the pits, dump the cherries into a blender. Whiz them about until they’re all smooshed and some of the pits are coarsely chopped, then put them into a strainer or a sieve and press hard, extracting as much puree as you can. Discard the solids.
Put the cherry puree into a pitcher and stir in the juice of four lemons, and about a cup of sugar. (If you like things really sour, you might want less; if you’ve got a sweet tooth, you’ll want more.)
This will keep for a day or two in the refrigerator. When you’re ready to drink the lemonade, pour into glasses and add water (or sparkling water) to taste.
Want to turn this into cocktails? Add a few splashes of vodka or gin, and garnish with a sprig of mint.
Speaking of lemonade…. I am obsessed with lemons. I am never without them. (If you want to hear about my lemon obsession, you can do that here.). So of course I have serious opinions about lemonade.
Great lemonade is much more than refreshingly delicious; it is also extremely good for you. In addition to containing loads of infection-fighting vitamin C, lemon juice is an antioxidant and very effective in times of gastric distress. But please, when life gives you lemons, make better lemonade.
The first thing to know is that the best flavor in a lemon is hiding in the peel, which contains all that wonderful lemon oil. If you’re going to take advantage of this, buy organic lemons or scrub conventional lemons very well before removing the zest.
But here’s the problem: just below the bright yellow zest is the evil white pith. It is very bitter; crush it into your lemonade and within a few hours your wonderful drink will become quite unpleasant.
Simple syrup (sugar dissolved in water), is one of the secrets to great lemonade. But if you infuse the syrup with lemon zest you get the complexity of the zest without the pithy bitterness - and a very sunny color.
Lemonade requires a lot of juice. A good lemon will give you a quarter cup of liquid. But few are so succulent, and if you have unfortunate lemons you can increase your odds by rolling the lemon beneath your palm to break down the cells. Another trick: microwave them for 20 seconds to shock them into relaxing and releasing more juice.
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
4-6 lemons, enough to make a cup of lemon juice
2 cups water
2 sprigs mint (optional)
Make syrup: With a sharp knife or a vegetable peeler, remove the zest from the lemons, being careful to leave all the white pith behind. Mix sugar and water in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Simmer, stirring, until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat, toss in the lemon zest and allow to cool.
Squeeze lemons: Squeeze enough lemons to yield a cup of fresh juice.
Mix to taste: Strain the sugar syrup; it should be a lovely yellow. Add half to the lemon juice, along with the water, and keep adding more until it is sweetened to your taste. (The strained syrup will keep almost indefinitely in the refrigerator.)
Serve: Pour over ice cubes and serve, garnished with a sprig of mint or a slice of lemon.
I am not, nor have I ever been, a nutrition writer. But in the seventies, when I began writing about food, I became concerned about all the terrible changes that were taking place in the American food system, and I persuaded Gay Bryant, the editor of New Dawn Magazine, to let me write about it.
I was wrong about MSG - that theory has been pretty thoroughly debunked - but it’s terrifying to think that fifty years have passed and many of these additives (not to mention many worse ones), are still being pumped into our foods.
This photograph is from an evening sometime in the nineties when the great director cooked for me and a few other food writers. It was a fantastic meal: the man can really cook! What I remember best is the potato dish from L’Ami Louis in Paris, which he prepared with mountains of garlic and oceans of duck fat.
What I also remember is that he challenged us to come up with a Broadway tune he didn’t know, which he claimed was impossible - he knew them all. I managed to stump him with You Don’t Tell Me from No Strings. (No Strings starred Diahann Carroll and Richard Kiley: Carroll won a Tony for her performance, a first for a Black actress.) I saw the show when I was 13 and the song stayed with me. I ended up singing it for Francis, who told me I had a great voice.
Which goes to show how drunk we all were: I have a terrible voice and can’t carry a tune.
The dinner below was very different. And unusual; today collaborative dinners are everyday affairs, but back then it was unusual for chefs to join forces to produce a meal. This one, held at Tony Bill’s 72 Market Street in Santa Monica featured both Coppola and the chef from Piero Selvaggio’s Primi Restaurant. (I’ll be posting the menus from both restaurants in the coming weeks.)
Speaking of collaborations….A few days ago two of America’s most exciting chefs collaborated on a meal at Atomix (which may be the country’s most-honored restaurant). Together JP Park and Nashville’s Sean Brock created an utterly unique and delicious meal filled with flavors you would find nowhere else.
Before the dinner Ellia Park led a lively discussion about the future of fine dining. I think the most interesting part of that discussion (and Daniel Boulud, James Kent, Will Guidara and Francis Lam all had a lot to say), was Sean Brock talking about finding a life/work balance. That’s a discussion you hear most often from women chefs, and it was wonderful to hear a man tackle the issue.
There were a lot of courses: these were the ones that really resonated with me:
This soup was - honestly - one of the best things I’ve ever tasted. It was all about texture; that puddle of startlingly intense broth contained achingly tender slices of abalone, a little pillow of octopus, a soft nugget of beef tendon and a couple of chicken dumplings that simply evaporated in the mouth. I was so sad when the bowl was empty.
That tomato snuggling up to the sturgeon has a name: Mr. Stripey. It is apparently found only in Appalachia (which is very much too bad). That beautiful herbal infusion was like a summer shower. And oh yes, there were plums in there too. Each bite was different, each one pure pleasure.
This food was made for the mouth and the mind, not the camera. So there is no way you can look at this fried beltfish and know that it was like inhaling the most delicious cloud. Tucked underneath was an insanely delicious porridge mixed with fermented pollock tripe.
Ossabaw pork does not taste like any other pork on earth. Descended from pigs abandoned by Spanish explorers in the sixteenth century on Ossabaw Island off the coast of Georgia, they developed in a unique way and are incredibly delicious. Those little seeds: okra. Underneath, a syrup made from chicory root. Brock is justly famous for using the foods of his native Appalachia - and the south - in innovative ways.
Just one little bite to end the meal: a kind of Appalachian flan made with pawpaw, black walnuts, buttermilk and sapelo purple ribbon cane. Sweet and so concentrated the flavors were still reverberating in my mind an hour later.
What did we drink? Vinha Centanaria 2019 from Antonio Macanita and Corton Grand Cru Les Combes 2019 Domaine Genot-Boulanger.
After dinner revels…..