When I saw California cherries had shown up at the grocery store I immediately grabbed a bag. A big bag. A very big bag. I bought a lot of cherries. I laid awake in the dark twilight of later that night, staring up at the ceiling fan above my bed, its blades spinning and chain making that almost inaudible, but still undeniably irritating, jingle. Those rotating blades and rhythmic clanking of the chain hypnotized me. Suddenly, I felt like I was falling—like a really lame remake of Vertigo. There was something so hypnotic about it.
I woke up the next morning, and went out to buy more cherries.
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in Michigan, where something like 70% of the country’s tart cherry supply comes from (primarily in part thanks to Traverse City), so between the cherry festivals, U-Pick cherry fields and orchards, and various PR blasts about our booming cherry industry, I’ve had a run-in or two with them.
Those tart cherries are excellent for pies or jams—anything that has them melting into copious amounts of sugar to balance their sharp edge—while the sweeter ones were good enough to eat on their own. I remember one of the first times (or first times that I remember, at least) that we bought sweet cherries from the orchard down the street (from their country store, before it was sold and made into a chain pharmacy); little golden orbs with a little blushing rouge on their cheeks. Fumbling with the pits was a frustrating novelty, but worth every aggravation.
It might be a little early still for Michigan cherries, but California cherries are known for their early arrival. By the time I finished pitting my trove of cherries, I looked at the pile of glossy, ruby gems and asked myself “what the hell am I going to do with all of these?” I’m not one for cherry pie, and these are far too sweet for that anyway, and I think I’ll be pushed out of the house if I put one more jar of pickled or preserved anything to stock. Surely I’ll freeze some, but what to do with the rest? Then I thought about the cherry blossom trees that line the streets of Wooster Street in the Wooster Square neighborhood of New Haven. Those pale pink flowers dotting the branches, and subsequently the streets, are a sight to be seen in the early wake of spring. They may not actually bear fruit, but nevertheless… Only when I went to write this did it hit me that I missed the annual Cherry Blossom Festival hosted in the square—missed it by a long shot, too. At least I have the Wooster Square Blossom Blog’s photos to enjoy it vicariously (it’s already in my phone for next year).
Anyway, with New Haven’s own Little Italy in mind, I thought about the combination of cherries and almonds. I can’t help but pair almonds with fruits or desserts—like the Rhubarb-Almond Crumble—because the rich nuttiness of sweet almonds has a lingering hit of their bitter counterparts, which compliment the fresh and fruity tastes of so many fruits. With cherries there’s an even more definitive link with Benzaldehyde; the compound is found in both almonds and the pits of cherries and is actually used as a synthetic flavoring for both. For this recipe, rather than using flaked almonds or almond meal, I went with a stronger almond tasting ingredient: almond paste. It’s easy enough to make your own, grinding blanch raw almonds with sugar and egg whites into a paste, but I just assume use the store-bought stuff. I know it’s not an exclusively Italian ingredient—and no matter; this isn’t really an Italian recipe—but the connotation and connection for me lies in that it’s flavor reminds me so much of amaretto liqueur, which also makes a small appearance.
Whether you can get your hands on early season California cherries, or the later season crop (Michigan, right?) this bundt cake is not only charming, but tastes so great you won’t find it hard to justify running out for more cherries (and I won’t feel alone for doing it either!).
Don’t forget–I’m on BLOGLOVIN’!