You can make this dish with either sweet or sour cherries, adjusting the sugar upward for sour ones, and cooking down their abundant juices as necessary.
About 1 1/4 pounds fresh sweet or sour cherries, washed and drained
About 3 tablespoons sugar or honey for sweet cherries; 1/4 to 1/3 cup for sour ones
2 tablespoons water
1/2 vanilla bean, split in half lengthwise, seeds scraped out with a paring knife
A few teaspoons fresh lemon juice, to taste (optional)
1 pint premium vanilla ice cream or about 1 cup crème fraiche or whipped cream
1. In a medium saucepan, combine the cherries, sugar and water; add the bean seeds and pod. Cover and cook over moderate heat until the cherries begin to release their juices, about 2 minutes.
2. Uncover and cook over high heat until the cherries are tender and some are split, about 2 minutes longer. (Sour cherries will release a lot of juices. Use a slotted spoon to scoop the cherries into a medium bowl, leaving the juices in the pan. Boil the juices until they are syrupy. Then, toss the cherries back into the syrup.)
3. Taste and add lemon juice if necessary to brighten the flavor. Let the cherries cool a few minutes. Serve right from the pan or pour into a large serving bowl. Spoon some of the cherries into 4 shallow soup bowls. Spoon ice cream or crème fraiche along side. Place empty bowls around the table to catch the pits and stems.
Note: If you prefer to serve the cherries pitted, there are several well-designed cherry pitters available that can pit a pound of cherries in just a few minutes, from simple hand-held pitters to more elaborate plunger-and-chute models. When caught without a cherry pitter, I've found it is easy to pit cherries the same way I pit olives: by smashing them lightly with a can or jar. The flesh breaks open so the cherry is no longer a neat shape, but it makes the pit is easy to take out. Place the cherries in a metal baking dish with at least 2" sides when you are doing this, to prevent the juice from squirting on your clothes. Alternatively, cover them with a paper towels to catch the spray.
From Sally Schneider
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