Sour cherries can be persnickety. First, they’re hard to find. In Los Angeles they seem to be available in most of the Armenian markets near Glendale for about two and a half weeks in June. However, don’t look for them in the produce aisle, go straight to the checkout counter. If you don’t see them ask. Sometimes they hide them. I guess they don’t want you to mistake them for sweet cherries (though, frankly, that would be hard to do – they cost twice as much). They’re also smaller and more “fluorescent”. Their diminutive size can make them hard to pit too. It takes a pretty persnickety cook with a lot of patience to prep a pound of these little buggers.
Once you get them in hand I’m sorry to say that their fussy nature continues because they’re not really great eaten out of hand. Still, in the right cook’s hand, they’re a sweet and sour seasonal marvel, and I always seek them out.
To be good, sour cherries need to be grown in the right environment and they can’t travel too far to market. This difficult dichotomy is why they’re so precious. They should be grown at high altitudes where they can get cool nighttime temperatures and plenty of daytime sunshine. Fortunately, California’s Leona Valley has just the right microclimate for sour cherries. Also, fortunately, the Leona Valley is only an hour and a half drive from many of those small family-owned Armenian markets I mentioned.
Pasta Frolla Tart with Sour Cherries
After getting my hands on a pound of sour cherries, I came home with the intention of making an Italian-style crostata inspired by Domenica Marchetti’s Instagram feed. Italian crostatas at their most traditional are jam-filled, lattice-topped tarts made with a sweet pastry crust known as pasta frolla. I’ve made them plenty of times. But I was intrigued by Marchetti’s version because I’d never seen them made in a fluted tart pan before. However, I have used her pasta frolla recipe for years and it seemed to me that the jammy nature of cooked sour cherries (per Ruth Reichl’s recipe) would be lovely in a Italian crostada. Pasta frolla is richer, silkier, and of course sweeter than the all-butter slightly salty French pastry crust I make by rote. In other words, a perfect partner to persnickety sour cherries.
So I pulled out my fluted tart pan and set my sights on a traditionally jammy Sour Cherry Crostata. However (and I should have known this) a pound of cherries only makes about 2 cups of prepped fruit. That’s not quite enough for a 9-inch crostada, not nearly enough for a 9-inch tart, and you can forget about a 9-inch pie. I use 6 cups of fruit in my cherry pie.
I could have headed back to Glendale to pick up another pound (or five) of sour cherries. But at $10.99 a pound I winced at that option and tossed out the Reichl plan as I chopped up a pound of ripe apricots. I instantly decided to attempt a 9-inch Sour Cherry and Apricot Tart with a crostada-style lattice top.
However, sour cherries aren’t the only persnickety characters in the kitchen. Pasta frolla is so soft that it can be challenging in warm weather. In the summer heat I was having trouble getting the thin lattice strips transferred to the top of the crostata. Sure, I could have rechilled them before constructing the crostata. However, in my rush to the end I opted for these much easier to handle squares of pasta frolla. If you squint your eyes I think you can still call it a lattice top. GREG