Monday, July 30, 2007

Sour Cherry & Almond Spoon Sweet


Spoon sweets are as integral to the culture of hospitality in Cyprus and Greece as mint tea is in Morocco – though the tradition of spoon sweets is centuries and probably milennia older. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a home in either country where, upon entering, you aren’t offered a small crystal dish with a tiny silver spoon of syrup-soaked fruits. The only accompaniment is a cool glass of water, into which the last few drops of syrup are stirred once the fruit has been eaten. The ritual is so prominent that a spoon sweet set is still a part of most bridal trousseaus.

And there’s something fascinating about an ancient tradition, still upheld today, that requires a sweet, homemade preserve to pass over the lips of a guest upon entry into one's home – remarkably, most spoon sweets are still made by the family of the house, even though they can be bought in food stores now too.

Spoon sweets differ from jam in that the fruits are almost always tart or bitter before cooking, they are usually kept whole, and they are preserved in a spiced or herb-rich syrup boiled down from their own juices and some sugar or honey – though long ago, grape must was the sweetener. Popular choices include apricots, grapes, quinces, figs, pomegranates, and cherries. Vegetables are often used too – especially small eggplant and tomatoes.

And the preparation is not limited to the obvious choices here – cooking something in syrup can be a wonderful way to transform the seemingly inedible into something delectable. Citrus peel or small whole citrus fruits and unripe nuts all make beautiful spoon sweets. I have a jar of black walnut spoon sweet – the nuts still in their shells, mind you – that was boiled in a mastic and raki or “fire water” syrup for 3 days and nights by the chef who gave them to me.

The unifying theme is that the fruit, vegetables, or nuts should retain their original (or enhanced) flavor and shape, which is what I love most about spoon sweet. And sour cherries are a perfect candidate this time of year. This looks to be the last week for cherries here – most certainly for sour cherries whose season is quite short, but the Samascott Orchards stand at the market still has a dwindling yet reassuring heap of them.

I like sour cherries paired with the gentle crunch of almonds and the earthy spice of cinnamon and star anise. You might try your spoon sweet over yogurt or ice cream, tucked between the layers of a sponge cake, or poured into a little bowl on a cheese board. But best of all is my new favorite breakfast: toast spread with a soft goat cheese and drizzled with a few still-plump fruits in their astonishingly fragrant syrup.


Makes 1 Pint

1 very clean pint jar

4 cups pitted sour cherries, cleaned and carefully picked over (buy 2 lbs of fruit to account for stones and bruised pieces)
½ cup blanched almonds
1 cup sugar
3 tbsp brandy, raki, or grappa
2 tbsp lemon juice
1 stick cinnamon
2 pods star anise

Preheat the oven to 500 F

Sterilize your jar by putting it in the oven for at least 30 minutes. Carefully remove with tongs, and be careful not to touch the jar. As I’ve said before: hot glass looks the same as cool glass!

Combine all the ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a simmer over medium-low heat, stirring gently but continuously. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring often, for 8 – 10 minutes until the cherries are slightly wilted.

With a slotted spoon, remove the cherries and almonds to a sieve over a bowl, but leave behind the cinnamon and star anise. Raise the heat to medium and reduce the liquid for 5 minutes. Pour in the cherry juices that have accumulated in the bowl, and reduce for another 5 minutes or until well-thickened.

Remove from the heat and allow to cool. Remove the spices and discard. Stir in the cherries and almonds and spoon into a sterilized jar or jars. Keeps in the fridge for 4 – 6 months.

36 comments:

marisa said...

Amanda this looks like it tastes and smells divine!

Ashley said...

I recently found your blog and I love it. My boyfriend and I tried your suggestion of basil with Prosecco and it was excellent! We are moving to Tuscany (Siena) at the end of August and we look forward to trying some of the other Prosecco drinks you mentioned!

Patricia Scarpin said...

What a wonderful tradition - everyone's day would be so much better after a spoonful of this! :)

Jackie said...

Luv this recipe and see you also have other great recipes even for a Vegan like me.

foodette said...

That sounds so fantastic! I have always been afraid to jar preserves at home, but sterilizing in the oven (as opposed to boiling) is such a great idea! Thanks!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Marisa - Yes the smell is unbelievable, and I like that the fruit doesn't get cooked down to mush - they are still "cherries." Thanks so much!

Hi Ashley, I'm so glad you enjoyed the Prosecco! Siena is one of the most special cities in Europe as far as I'm concerned -- how glorious that you're moving there! Did you see the post on passeggiatas in June? There are some photos. I can't wait to hear all about your move. Thanks so much and do stay in touch!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Patricia, I agree! It's such a nice transition between the outside world and being relaxed in someone's home.

Hi Jackie, I'm so glad it works for you! Thanks so much!

Hi Foodette - It's not the same thing as canning (when you boil the filled & closed jars to create a seal), but it works well enough for me! The canning thing seems like such a production, and I'd rather just keep it in the fridge. Plus this never lasts very long anyway! I'm glad you like!

Ashley said...

No, I did not see the post on passeggiatas. I'll check it out! We are really looking forward to all the good food. My boyfriend is a chef, and will be working in a restaurant, so hopefully he'll learn to make all the good food and I'll get to eat it!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Ashley, I can't wait to hear all about the food he creates! This is going to be even cooler that I realized!!!! And if you go to my June archives, there are 3 posts on the area. The Passeggiata one focuses quite a bit a Tuscany, but there's some cool info on the Florentine markets, which are a short bus trip away. And since you're moving in August, the weekly festas will still be happening each Sunday for at least a month after you get there. So fun!

Ashley said...

I'll check the posts out right now! We already are planning to go to a truffle festival in San Miniato that is sometime in October-I forget when exactly. But there is so much great food, even just going to the weekly market in Siena will be a treat!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Ashley, I love San Miniato! All those cool festivals happen in the fall when I can't get away. Drat! I guess I'll have to experience it vicariously through your blog!

Ashley said...

I love the pictures on the posts, especially of Siena! We leave in 29 days! We are spending a few days in Parma first, neither of us have been there. Whats not to like about Parmigiano cheese and prosciutto!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Ashley, how exciting! I can't wait to hear all about it! Good luck with the move and do stay in touch.

Ashley said...

I definitely will!

Caty said...

What a wonderful ritual to have! It would be wonderful to turn up at someones house and be presented with a spoon sweet, especially yours, which looks delicious!

winedeb said...

Interesting that they serve only the fruit and glass of water, which actually sounds superb! Do they follow up with anything else?

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Caty, and thanks! It is a lovely thing - makes you feel very welcome. And the different varieties each home cook makes can be truly delicious!

Hi Winedeb, It's a completely separate thing from any meal you might be served. Occasionally, in my experience, if you arrive just as a meal is ready to serve, you might be given the spoon sweet for dessert along with some fresh fruit. But otherwise, it's something that happens at the start of your visit regardless of whether other food is coming or not. I think the point is refreshment - physical and psychological.

JennDZ - The Leftover Queen said...

This looks so beautiful! I love the tradition on spoon sweets. Sour cherry sounds wonderful~!

By the way, I made the port soaked cantaloupe the other night and it was very good!

Truffle said...

This recipe sounds wonderful and those photos are just beautiful. You've given me a cherry craving!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Jenn! Thank you. I'm so happy you enjoyed the melon. It's an oldie but a goodie. And I can imagine the spoon sweet thing being right up your alley - a truly lovely tradition. Fascinating too.

Hi Truffle! Thanks so much! It's always so sad when the cherries are over for the year. I'm trying to make this batch of spoon sweet last as long as I can, but it's not going very well so far, I can tell you. Love your Croatia post by the way! I can't wait to get to the Italy and Barcelona ones as well!

winedeb said...

That is a wonderful tradition!

On just a little different note here, as you know, the tomato crop in the US is exploading! I have all types of tomatoes covering my kitchen counters. Any good fresh tomato recipes? (Besides the salad ones using basil, etc.)
Thanks!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Winedeb, as a matter of fact I do have something that I'll be writing up fairly soon. Will see if I can think of anything else too!

Joanne Rendell said...

it's a shame that blogger hasn't invented a way we could actually taste your recipes! this one would be perfect. every person who would log on to your blog would get one of these yummy spoon sweets.

Sylvia said...

What a beautiful way to tell the story I never imagines about to keeping the small spoon like a souvenir of pretty memories. In fact, I like a lot to cook in light syrup the peels of lemons and bitter oranges. But I never made it with cherries, I suppose that with blueberries it will be good also, but on the other hand I find to be a little fragile for that kind of cooking. I love that, as well as all the other ones post yours

Figs Olives Wine said...

Jo Jo - I am working on my right bicep in the gym. If I get a fist of spoon sweet and lean out my window at the appropriate angle, I think I can just hit your bathroom window.

Hi Sylvia! Thank you so much! You know, spoon sweet is actually a precursor (according to some) to marmalade - so it's all interrelated! You should post your own recipe with the oranges and lemons. I'd love to see it!

Lucy said...

No wonder families still make them at home themselves. Simple, but easy to adapt to your own tastes and quirks.

Am rather intrigued by the idea of tomatoes and tiny eggplants sweetened and served in this way.

teri said...

wow, that recipe looks beautiful. i have been to far too many greek homes where the spoon sweets served to me have been excrutiatingly sweet. if i had been served those instead i might still like them today :)

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Lucy! The possibilities really are infinite, which is perhaps why so many home cooks still enjoy making them rather than just buying them. The whole sweetened eggplant and tomato thing from the region is fascinating to me too. Did you see the candied tomatoes I found in the Florentine markets? In eggplant spoon sweets, each tiny fruit is cut in half almost all the way and quite often an almond is placed in the center. I think I might try it soon now that the eggplants here have really come into season.

Hi Teri! Thank you! I've run into that problem too. A good spoon sweet should still taste of the fruit, vegetable, or nut that it's made from, so you're dead on with this. Even though the pastries from Greece are ultra sweet, too much honey or sugar in a spoon sweet is actually incorrect (if there is such a thing...). But I encourage you to try this spoon sweet - it's really different from what you're remembering having tasted, and what I'm shuddering about as I remember too!

Mercedes said...

This is beautiful, they have the same tradition in Turkey, Lebanon and Syria. My favorites are bitter orange peels in syrup and melon rind in syrup. So good!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Mercedes - That's fascinating! They do it in parts of Russia as well, I'm pretty sure. I would love to see how you prepare them if you are ever inspired!

Garrett said...

Looks divine! I'm adding you to my blogroll (i doubt you mind, haha).

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Garrett, and thanks! Right back atcha ; )

Cynthia said...

Amanda the possibilities are endless with these preserves aren't they?

Figs Olives Wine said...

Hi Cynthia and welcome back!! The possibilities are endless, and spoon sweets vary infinitely from town to town and home to home. It's all based on ingredient availability and on family tradition, which is something I really like about the whole thing!

tannaz said...

i'm so glad i've found your blog! i'm obsessed with the mediterranean -- especially the food philosophy there -- and everything here is so evocative and gorgeous!

i made some yogurt this weekend, and made a mini-batch of this spoon sweet, with a few customizations, to drizzle on top. so perfect and delicious!

Figs Olives Wine said...

Tannaz, thank you and welcome! I'm so pleased you like the site and share my passion for the region. And thanks for letting me know you made the spoon sweet. I hope you enjoy it. Mine's almost gone already - drat!

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