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« Fashionable Flowers and Squash Blossom Soup | Main | IMBB #17: East Meets West Over a Cup of Tea »

Home Sweet Home with a Rainier Cherry-Almond Gratin



Rainier Cherry-Almond Gratin 

Being asked by well-meaning strangers where home is for me is one of the more difficult questions I regularly encounter. Having spent good portions of my life living in places as diverse as Spain, California, New Orleans, Ireland and Germany, it's sometimes hard for me to pin down that elusive concept of 'home' others bandy about so freely. I can easily tell people where I was born, where I've studied, where I lived then and where I live now, but home? It's hard to say. If home is where the heart is, my home is obviously in Scotland at the present. However, if home is the place where you feel most peaceful, content and connected with the world, the place you feel you would rather be most any time of the year and the place whose produce you would be happy eating each and every day of your life to the exclusion of all else, then without a doubt I am a Pacific Northwesterner through and through.

Of course it helps that this is where my family still lives, so coming back to Washington year after year gives me a sense of continuity and belonging I don't have anywhere else. Since I first left home eleven years ago to become an exchange student it's become a place synonymous with rest, relaxation and escape from the rigors of 'real life', wherever that real life may be taking place. But sometimes the depth of my attachment to the Northwest surprises even me. Year after year I feel a tension building up the longer I am away, a tension that reaches its crescendo as my parents relate the improving weather of spring and tales of the first flowers and strawberries, a tension which miraculously melts into relief the moment I step off the plane into the warm Northwest sunshine and realize not too much has changed in my absence. I find myself relieved that the landscape is still so beautiful and the summer still so benign, relieved that Seattle is still so exciting and the view I wake up to still so awe-inspiring. And of course I'm relieved that the same cornucopia of beautiful ingredients are still coming into their fullness year after year just as I arrive for my visit.

I took the ferry into Seattle yesterday in order to go to the Pike Place Market, a place you should never ever visit on a summer weekend but on a weekday is just possible if you've learned the technique of navigating around the tourist roadblocks. I specifically wanted to go yesterday because of a new attraction at the market on Wednesdays: organic produce. In addition to all of the market's usual sellers, a special section has been set up in the open air along Pike Place, where sellers from all corners of Washington come once a week to sell their organic bounty. The prices are great, the selection impressive, and the quality and freshness impeccable. I had picked up a bagful of zucchini blossoms, a couple pounds of assorted heirloom plums, juicy apricots and salad greens, when I stumbled upon two things that sweetened my homecoming. The first was organic Red Haven peaches from Rama Farm in Bridgeport. Let me tell you something - if you live in or near Seattle, run, don't walk, to the market next Wednesday - I don't care if you have to take the day off work to do it - and buy these peaches. They are the best peaches I have ever eaten, hands down. Eating the first one as I ambled along the waterfront, juice gushing down my chin and all over my shirt, I could barely keep my eyes focused ahead of me, such was the tendency for them to roll back into my head in ecstasy. Before I knew it I had eaten half my purchase, so I hiked back up to the market to buy some more before it closed (and unsuccessfully begged Rick, the friendly peach-seller, to consider shipping to Scotland while I was at it). I briefly considered doing something blog-worthy with those peaches, but could think of nothing that would do them more justice than eating them exactly as they are.

My second find, which did produce something blog-worthy, was cherries - oodles and oodles of Rainier cherries, to be exact. I had not really planned to do anything else with cherries this year, especially as I've already given you these two cherry recipes already and the supply seemed to be drying up in Scotland as I left. But upon seeing that my absolute favorite - the locally-grown blushing yellow-and-pink Rainier (which I love for being sweet and tart and chock full of what I consider quintessential cherry flavor) - is at the peak of its season right now, I couldn't resist carting enough home to put some to good use (good use of course being something besides popping them into my mouth). In fact, I ended up making something (from The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells which I recently borrowed from the Edinburgh public library) that was so good, I would have gladly rescinded every cherry recipe I've published thus far in order to have this one alone catch your attention. Heidi did a great post on the same recipe a couple of months ago, but I simply couldn't not share my version ot it too. In fact, I like it so much I've made it twice already, and those who know me well can vouch for the infrequency of that. It's also great because, unlike those heaven-sent peaches, just about any cherry you can get your hands on will work fine for this. Though of course I'm partial to those pinky-sweet Rainiers, if for no other reason than just because they remind me I'm home.

Cherry-Almond Gratin
Source: The Paris Cookbook by Patricia Wells
Serves: 6
Note: I imagine that you could substitute any number of fruits for the cherries here, particularly apricots, peaches, nectarines, figs or berries. Just adjust the sugar and lemon juice accordingly.

2 pounds/1 kg fresh cherries, rinsed, stemmed and pitted
juice of one large lemon
4 tablespoons sugar, or to taste (adjust for sweetness of your cherries, but avoid over-sweetening as topping is quite sweet)
1 cup/125 grams finely ground almonds
8 tablespoons/125 grams unsalted butter, softened
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons heavy or double cream
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup/120 grams powdered/icing sugar, unsifted
Several drops of almond extract (to taste)
Powdered/icing sugar for dusting the gratin

Preheat the oven to 375F/190C.

Butter a medium ceramic or glass baking dish and set aside.

In a heavy-bottomed pot combine the cherries, lemon juice, and sugar. Cook over medium heat, stirring regularly, for 15-20 minutes, until the cherries are starting to fall apart and the liquid has thickened. Transfer the cherries to the prepared baking dish and allow to cool.

Prepare the almond cream: whisk together the almonds and butter until smooth. Add the eggs, cream, salt and powdered sugar and whisk until thick, smooth, and well blended. Add the almond extract, mixing to blend. Spoon the cream over the cooled cherries in the baking dish.

Place the baking dish in the center of the oven and bake until the gratin is a deep golden brown, about 20 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool.

Dust the gratin lightly with powdered sugar and serve in wedges, warm or at room temperature. This dessert is best served a few hours after it is prepared.


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Reader Comments (22)

I feel a very similar "pull" to the Northwest and Seattle and I've never lived there! Thank you for this tiny vicarious visit during a Northwest-less summer.
I just might be able to catch the end of the Washington cherries down here in CA but we've moved on to figs locally.
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAmyBee
Ooh, that peach sounds definitely blog-worthy! How about a picture of it in all its luscious glory ??
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterplum
Melissa, I can't believe that you're in the neighborhood and I had no idea! I'm sure you're very busy, but do let me know if you have a minute to spare. A drink--or a peach--is in order.
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMolly
Sounds fabulous! That gratin has me drooling!
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commenterclare eats
Hi Melissa,

You just had to do this to me...I love cherries and you just presented another mouthwatering dessert that I really must try to make. ARGH! =P
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterReid
Melissa, so beautifully written. I feel as though I'm missing Washington and I've never even been there. The Pike Place Market sounds like it would definitely be worth the trip though. Glad you are enjoying your stay and still managing to cook up a storm.
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterMichele
That looks beautiful! I miss the northwest, have a great vacation!
August 5, 2005 | Unregistered Commentergemma
Hi AmyBee - The Northwest seems to have that effect on people... Strange! I'm looking forward to the figs too, but I always feel a pang of sadness when I see them since I know they mean summer's almost over.

Hi plum - Oh dear, I'm afraid the peaches are ancient history by now :) I didn't take a picture because they didn't look like anything other than your normal supermarket peaches... but my oh my that flavor!

Hi Molly - I'm absolutely delighted at the prospect of meeting you, though since those peaches won't be making another appearance for nearly a week I guess a drink will have to do!

Hi Clare - Guess when cherries come into season in Australia you'll have quite a slew of recipes to try, won't you? ;)

Hi Reid - Okay, no more excuses, get yourself pitting! :)

Hi Michele - Pike Place market is definitely one of Seattle's biggest attractions. A day in Seattle never seems complete for me without stopping there, though I'm sure true locals avoid it like the plague at this time of the year because of all the gawking out-of-towners (like me!)! And if just reading this had made you miss Washington, just imagine what a visit would do...

Hi Gemma - Thank you! Maybe it's time for a visit soon? This great produce unfortunately won't last forever...
August 6, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Hooray! I was hoping you'd put this recipe up. I'm going to make it tonight. Ben and I are also racking our brains about what we could cook for you when you come back.
August 6, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterDharshi

Melissa, what a beautiful view to wake up to in Seattle. I love that photo you posted.

Those peaches (and cherries) sound delicious. I don't think I've had peaches or cherries or any other fruits (maybe mangoes, yes) to rave about. I hope I have the opportunity one day. ;)

Are those zucchini blossoms as garnish on your Cherry-Almond Gratin in your photo above? I have no idea what zucchini blossoms are....

In the recipe ingredients, it asks for double cream. Is that the same as heavy cream?

Last question : the ingredients also call for "finely ground almonds." Do you grind the almonds yourself -- like using some kind of grinder?



August 7, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPaz
Hi Dharshi - This should answer your question as to whether I ever make the same dish twice ;) And we would love to be cooked for by you again - no matter what you make!

Hi Paz - It's actually a really sad thing that we have to rave about finding really good produce, isn't it? It implies that what we normally get is pretty bad! As for your questions, those aren't zucchini blossoms, just some little edible flowers (anyone recognize them?) that I picked up at the local farmer's market. I'll try to post a picture of zucchini blossoms soon. And yes, heavy cream and double cream are pretty much the same thing. As for ground almonds, it's possible to find them pre-ground in a lot of better-stocked supermarkets and natural foods stores, sometimes under the term 'almond flour'. In Scotland I can buy it in Indian food stores as well. If you can't find any, you can make your own by grinding raw blanched almonds in a food processor or clean coffee grinder. If doing it this way be very careful to not over-grind and do it in bursts of only a few seconds at a time, otherwise you'll have almond butter!
August 8, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
Ahhh -- edible flowers! Very nice!

I'm looking forward to the photo of your zucchini blossoms.

Thanks for the tip about the ground almonds (and heavy cream).

August 8, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterPaz
Your post made me so homesick for Seattle, even though the temp is a cool 71 F this week. The Market, Madison Valley, the Arboretum, Bell Town, Queen Anne and more have been on my mind. My husband tells me I still dress like a NWesterner and I better cut it out since I live in Italy now. I love the look of your site, and the food photos are gorgeous.
August 9, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterGia
Wow. I'm going to make that this weekend. Looks awesome!
August 10, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Machanic
heigh-ho melissa! mon dieu, i forgot all about those yummy little beauties. well do something smashing with those squash blossoms, will you? goodness, but this soon-to-be vancouver resident can't wait to get her hands on all this great stuff you're re-discovering. give my love to seattle and peninsular washington!
August 11, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterSimone
Hi Melissa!!
I´ve just found your blog
I´m, like you, a food blogger from spain, the same things travel food and more food and more travel. Your blog is fantastic, I like it!
August 11, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersaomai
Hi Paz - The squash blossoms are coming, I promise! :)

Hi Gia - Thanks! I wish I could send you a little bit of Seattle to ease your homesickness. Unfortunately it's almost the end for me too, so pretty soon I'll again be as homesick as you...

Hi Adam - Let me know how it turns out!

Simone, my dear! How lucky you are to be soon coming to this part of the world for good. Edinburgh (and I) will certainly miss you. Maybe you'll have to send me little care packages of all the great things you'll be discovering in Vancouver...

Hola Saomai - Muchísimas gracias and thanks for dropping by! I'm looking forward to polishing up my rusty castellano enough to read your blog. By the way, are you in Galicia?
August 12, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa
hi melissa, what a beautiful picture! have the paris cookbook but must confess to never having been inspired to try the cherry almond gratin recipe - now am, thanks to your lovely post! cheers,j
August 12, 2005 | Unregistered CommenterJ
Hey Melissa, welcome home! I'm getting a longing for a trip to the mainland and Pike Place Market reading your post. We always stay with friends who are within walking distance of the market so I've never ridden the Seattle area ferries. I didn't realize they're as tourist-laden this time of year as our San Juan ferries are!
August 13, 2005 | Unregistered Commentermrs D.
Hi Melissa!!! yes, I´m from Galicia, you and your spanish (or english) are welcome in my food blog!!! I do it the same, practice english with your blog, jejejej
August 14, 2005 | Unregistered Commentersaomai
Hi J - This is the first Patricia Wells recipe I've ever made, and I must say I am impressed - I'm considering investing in a couple of her books just on the strength of this gratin! (Not like I need any more cookbooks...)

Hi Mrs D - It's hard for me to imagine that anyone living on San Juan would miss anywhere else, but I guess Pike Place withdrawl can strike anybody! You're lucky to have a kitchen close to the market when you go - the bad thing about having to take the ferry over is the amount of time it takes to get your bounty home - appetite and summer heat can certainly ravage a sackful of produce!

Hi Saomai - Okay, sounds like a linguistic and culinary exchange! :)
August 14, 2005 | Registered Commentermelissa

I absolutely love recipes which allow for the addition of figs. I've actually been using fig confit (with cinnamon) for a couple of months now, and it is absolutely delicious. I buy the confit from Holy Food Imports rather than the local supermarket because the quality is really good.

June 27, 2008 | Unregistered CommenterStephen

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