That first bag of cherries, carefully chosen and cradled home as the precious cargo it is, must be one of the great celebratory, seasonal rites. Cherries and Christmas in the southern hemisphere are inextricably linked and, seeing them heaped in a near-black, glossy pile at the market, set out in a small wooden crate on the counter, a place reserved for Very Special produce, makes me suddenly aware (and, it must be said, slightly nervous) that it very nearly December.
Heat-hazed, shimmering days and the clear, glittering nights of summer are not far away.
Along with their fuzzy-cheeked cousin the apricot, cherries are the first stonefruit of the season. Their arrival seems to make everyone at the market rather happy. I'm always chuffed when the waxen white cherries return, but the Homerian wine dark kind, bleeding beautiful, slightly gruesome juices when cut, have far more going for them flavour-wise. They need precious little to make them shine.
The formula given for successful kanten-making often reads as follows:
1 tablespoon of agar flakes + 1 cup of chosen liquid = jelly
Which will indeed make you a jelly, an excellent one, but one set as solidly, as rigidly, as that which sits at the bottom of a petri dish in a science lab. Not what springs to mind when I think jelly. For a softly set jelly, the kind that glitteringly, quiveringly, begs you to break its glossy surface, sink in a spoon, and lift it, wobbling all the way, to your lips, the formula needs re-jigging:
1 teaspoon of agar flakes + 1 cup of chosen liquid = really delicious jelly
Do as you prefer and, most of all, experiment; have some fun. This post will guide you well. Agar has no calories (hooray!)and will set most anything (hooray!) but foods that are high in oxalic acid. So no spinach, no rhubarb and, thankfully, no chocolate. I can think of any number of better uses for the latter...as, I am sure, can you.
Cherry Kanten (Jelly) – feeds 4-6
Cherry juice is, granted, not easy (nor cheap) to come by in Australia. You could juice your own I suppose, but can you imagine how tedious that would be? Instead, use all apple or something else that takes your fancy – grape juice, pear or even a little thinned apricot nectar. Sets at room temperature in 1 hour.
1 cup cherry juice
2 ½ cups apple juice
¼ cup Grand Marnier or Kirsch
2 tablespoons of agave syrup or sugar
3 ½ teaspoons of agar flakes
1 cup of cherries
Heat juices, alcohol and agave syrup in a small, non-reactive saucepan. Bring to a boil, skimming any scum that rises to the surface. Reduce heat to a simmer and sprinkle the agar over the surface. Simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until agar has dissolved.
In between stirring your jelly, halve and pit the cherries. Peel, stone and slice the peach. Distribute the fruit evenly between 4-6 small bowls or teacups – something pretty that you will be serving them in.
Ladle the hot liquid into each bowl and leave, at room temperature, to set.