October 06, 2023
Dear Frenchly Readers,
Last weekend, when our family drove a couple of hours on Saturday to go watch our older son run in a race with over 1100 boys, we had to park about 3/4 of a mile from the race start. But as luck would have it, we parked next to some trees along the side of the road that were absolutely laden with Montmorency cherries. Ok, actually, I had no idea that they were French cherries with a special name. I just recognized that they seemed to hang in a cherry-like way. For all I knew, they were some sort of interesting crabapple, or poisonous. However, a brief tour around “the Google” led me to realize what they were, and we were able to pick enough for a pie.
Montmorency, I soon learned, is a small town on a hill overlooking the Plaine de France and is a northern suburb of Paris. It is named for the Montmorency family, an old (perhaps the oldest, as their coat of arms dates back to 993) and distinguished noble family in France.
The Montmorency family had an ancestral castle overlooking the town, which was destroyed by the English during the Hundred Years’ War. It was never rebuilt and the family decamped to another serviceable chateau, as one does, just north, in Écouen. But the name Montmorency stayed with the town. In the years since, the Montmorency family has supplied France with many dukes, cardinals, admirals, constables, grand marshals, grand officers of the crown, and various knights.
To get back to those sour cherries with the regal scarlet outside and yellow inside, the Montmorency cherry was first cultivated in the valleys around the town of Montmorency in the 1700s. Early French settlers that came to Canada and then moved along the Saint Lawrence River Valley towards the Great Lakes brought the cherry with them in 1760. Apparently, the reasons for why this particular cultivar became the sour cherry to bring to the New World are lost. But what we do know, is that it proliferated along the Great Lakes and became the most abundantly grown and popular tart cherry in the New World. In fact, today, in Michigan alone, there are over 24,000 acres of Montmorency cherry orchards. The juice of the Montmorency cherry is now considered a “superfruit” and is sold bottled as juice and used in supplements to combat gout, arthritis, cancer, heart disease, and many other conditions. There is also naturally occurring melatonin in sour cherries, which makes their juice a wonderful sleep aid. Many medical professionals, across all disciplines, are now touting sour cherry juice as a cure-all.
Just for fun, I tried to figure out if George Washington might have cut down a Montmorency cherry tree. Not sure, as the story itself was likely apocryphal. But, in the midst of my research, when I read the following, I felt vindicated for pilfering those roadside cherries: In 1749, the Finnish-Swedish explorer and botanist, Pehr Kalm, wrote that “all travelers are allowed to pluck ripe fruit in any garden which they pass by, provided they do not break any branches; and not even the most covetous farmer hindered them from so doing.”
The pie, folks, was sweet at first and then so puckery sour and just the best thing ever. A layer of whipped cream the next day made it even better. Not that I ever had a piece. My sons are so athletic they are consuming a pie a day lately. I did get a bite, however, and I stole a small sliver for Dan. I have a few cherries left and I plan to make a second pie this evening. Or I might make Cat’s cherry galette, here. (I will use 1.5 cups of sugar for 3 cups of Montmorency cherries.)
We’ll need it as we binge the third season of Lupin this long weekend.
À cuisiner, boire, regarder et lire ce weekend:
Ok, Omar Sy. That’s all I need to say. Lupin is back and it is worth the wait: Not only is Omar the best thing since sliced pain, but Shirine Boutella and Soufiane Guerrab—two incredible actors who play cops in the show–are so fun to see again. I could watch those two forever. Cat Rickman pulled out all the stops yesterday to watch and digest and write this review for us today. Enjoy. Your weekend is now planned for you.
Tart cherry pies: If you, like me, might make a pie this weekend, take the time to find a cherry pitter—cutting the fruit off the cherries last weekend became Dan’s job as the rest of us couldn’t deal and he’s more patient with small wins. Also, don’t try to sweeten the pie too much. I used just under 2 cups of sugar for a pie’s worth of fruit. Ours was tart, but we put maple syrup and vanilla in our Chantilly cream, which made it just parfait.
As you cook, turn up the volume on French chanteuse Jain’s addictive tribute to “Mama Africa,” the anti-apartheid South African singer/activist, Miriam Makeba. (Makeba was considered by many, after gaining international attention in the film, Come Back, Africa, to be the dominating musical voice of anti-apartheid South Africa; much of her music was recorded while she was exiled from the country.) Jain, who is the daughter of a French father and a mother who is half French and from a tribe in Madagascar, is a revelation. Her song “Makeba” was released in 2015, but became a TikTok sensation this past summer. It’s fun, catchy and surprisingly moving. You won’t be able to listen to it just once.
Keep the mood going with Miriam Makeba singing “Pata Pata” in 1967 on the Ed Sullivan Show. You won’t stop dancing and smiling. I don’t know about you, but I could use that about now… (And how about Makeba’s smile in this video of “The Click Song.” Wow. Makes me wistful and happy all at once.)
Have a tart/sweet/adventurous/courageous/dancey weekend!
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