Another summer, another boy and I noticed my Aunt S. Jean's magnificent cherry tree just as we were about to leave. We wound up extending our visit to pick and pit every cherry within reach, and then capped the day with some Dylan in the ballpark. Dylan was a mess, but we got to study his wizened blue eyes for twitches of sardonic grace. Another boy and I discovered that in Hungary, tart and sweet cherries are two different fruits (meggy and cseresnye). I turned brandied meggyek into pie for Pi Day. He was fiercely loyal to his Rainier cherries, and later we ate them by the fistful in sight of their towering namesake. But I am not really a sweet cherry girl....
This summer, Mama calls me up to tell me how many sour cherry quarts -- nay, bushels -- she's put up, while I hunt and peck to find them in San Francisco at $5 a pound. Sure, I can tolerate the widely-available sweet Bing and Rainier cherries, nibbled juicily fresh off the stem, but they turn to a mealy bland mush when baked. Pie cherries, though, positively ripen under heat, getting glossy, translucent, and breathtakingly intense. Withstanding the oven's crucible -- now that's a winning trait. And cherry pie is my favorite flavor of heaven.
But what's to be done when a pie's worth of sour cherries cost more than $10? Stretch them out over pastry cream and a rich shortbread crust.
Cherry Cream Tart
Prepare and bake a 9" sweet shortbread tart crust
Prepare a 2-cup batch of pastry cream
When the crust and pastry cream are cool, spoon the pastry cream in the tart shell. Rinse and pit 2 cups sour cherries. Pitting is most easily done with a paperclip. In a small saucepan, whisk together 4 T. sugar and 1 T. cornstarch. Drizzle in 4 T. red wine, blend well, and add the cherries. Bring to a simmer over medium heat, stirring constantly until everything thickens, turns clear, and boils. Remove from heat and stir in a splash of bourbon. Immediately spoon on top of pastry cream. Chill till set. Avoid transporting on public transit during rush hour.
Serve with soft dollops of lightly-sweetened whipped cream.