The beauty of cherry blossoms inspires me. Every year, I make the effort to convince people to stop and revel in their beauty. For me, they symbolize the arrival of spring. The end of winter. An opportunity to savour the present moment. Prosperity. Joy. Beauty. Freshness. Maybe even a little bit of hope.
Cherry blossoms also remind me of the cherry tree in my parents’ backyard. In the dead of winter, their tree is barren, sparse, and diminished in its appearance. When the blossoms are in full bloom, I am reminded of the coming months’ potential.
Weeks later, during the intense summer heat, I feel sorry for that same tree. It flops and flounders from the sheer weight of the hundreds of cherries waiting to be picked off and eaten. Thankfully, my mom enjoys prep work in the kitchen and is able to make mundane tasks, seem interesting.
Meticulously, my mom will sort through the cherries, discard the rotten ones, carefully wash them. Next, she lays them out to dry on clean kitchen towels. Every inch of available counter space morphs into a cherry drying station. She will divide the batches into ones to savour immediately and the other — into ones to freeze.
For the latter batch, she will carefully (without splattering any juice) remove the pits and place the halves on parchment-lined trays. Once a tray is full, she quick-freezes the cherries. She packs them into bags for the freezer, so summer goodness can comfort us in the months, when we so need it.
I adore chutneys. There are certain foods that have become real symbols of love for me in my mom’s cooking. Chutneys score high on the list.
My mom loves to feed people. At every dining opportunity, she shares her latest chutney creation with heartfelt enthusiasm. She smiles, giggles, and says something equivalent to “just try a little.” Always! If it is not already apparent, my mom is a goddess in the kitchen. She is well known within our extended family and her friend circle for her culinary prowess, especially her chutneys.
My mom is a chutney purist. She uses good quality, seasonal ingredients. Items she has on hand and loves. She customizes them — making her chutneys spicier for consumption at home, decreasing the intensity for an event.
She was taken back a few years ago, when I deconstructed her formula for making chutney. I was apprehensive, but I combined cherries (the sweet factor), a multitude of aromatics (the savoury factor), and then added in seasonings and flavourings to create an intensely addictive chutney. She was impressed. More so, she was proud, I had taken notice (for years) of her assertiveness in the kitchen.
Whether she knows it, or not, her lessons from the kitchen are sustaining. Precious. But most of all, keep me coming back — to the kitchen.
Don’t be scared at the sight of the word, chutney and think this recipe requires canning. While I enjoy canning, (please refrain from rolling your eyes) this particular recipe only makes enough for one small jar and is best eaten immediately.
There is a multitude of ways to serve this deep red chutney. It’s delicious basted on pork tenderloin or roasted turkey. This chutney could be a spread on your favourite sandwich. (Yum!) However, I like a dollop with a sharp cheddar cheese and crisp crackers. Sometimes I eat a spoonful here and there, because I can’t get enough of it.
Addictive Cherry Chutney
4 cups cherries, pitted
1 cup red onion, chopped
2 red chilli, chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 ½ tablespoons ginger, chopped
1/4 cup cilantro stems, chopped
1/4 cup white vinegar
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons lemon pepper
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon cornstarch
3 tablespoons water
In a large, heavy pot, stir together all of the ingredients, except water and cornstarch. Bring to a boil and turn down to a simmer, stirring every couple of minutes. After about 35 minutes, stir more often and once the chutney has reduced, add cornstarch/water slurry and continue cooking until thickened. Remove from the heat and let cool. Blend until smooth. Store in the refrigerator.