The summer picking season has begun in the Great Lakes region for tart Montmorency cherries. Both Bing and Montmorency are grown extensively in Wisconsin and Michigan, thus the National Cherry Festival hosted in Traverse City, Michigan each year. On the festival website, they share this bit of history:
French colonists from Normandy brought pits that they planted along the Saint Lawrence River and on down into the Great Lakes area. Cherry trees were part of the gardens of French settlers as they established such cities as Detroit, Vincennes, and other midwestern settlements.
Modern day cherry production began in the mid-1800s. Peter Dougherty was a Presbyterian missionary living in northern Michigan. In 1852, he planted cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula (near Traverse City, Michigan). Much to the surprise of the other farmers and Indians who lived in the area, Dougherty’s cherry trees flourished and soon other residents of the area planted trees. The area proved to be ideal for growing cherries because Lake Michigan tempers Arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer.
We are quite fond of the combination of cherries with slow cooked meats. The tart, sweet flavors of the fruit offer both contrasting and complementary elements to a savory dish, and slow-roasted meats in particular. We once served an espresso-rubbed beef short rib was served on a dollop of lusciously rich pommes aligot with a ribbon of cherry sauce surrounding the plate. Decadent and beautiful (and a hat tip to my buddy Tom who co-created the dish).
A simple, summer dish in the same vein follows:
Pork Tenderloin with Cherry Pan Sauce
1 Pork tenderloin
1 sweet white onion, diced
1 tsp salt
1 cup pitted cherries
1/2 cup dry white wine
1 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs butter
Hand rub seasoning into pork tenderloin 1 hour before preparing, allow to rest in refrigerator, uncovered. After one hour, remove pork. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Heat oil in cast iron skillet over high heat until shimmering hot. Sear pork on all sides, approximately 2 minutes per side. Set pork aside onto platter. Add onions to pan and sprinkle with salt and allow to wilt, stirring often to avoid burning. When caramelized, add wine and cherries and nestle pork back into pan and cover. Place in oven for 20 minutes or until internal temperature reaches 145 degrees. Remove pork to platter to rest. Remove half of cherry/onion mixture and process in food processor until smooth. Return to pan with butter and mix together. Slice the pork on a slight angle and serve on generous spoonful of sauce.
We choose to serve it with pine nut couscous and oven roasted broccoli, but a wild rice dish here would be an even better pairing, bringing some of the roasted, nutty flavors to the dish. We have also prepared mashed potatoes with a very generous portion of blue cheese added which would have matched nicely here as well. Getting cheese into the dish is recommended. Sweet cherries have that deep, winey depth while the tart cherries bring the bright acidity. Try either or both. And any leftover cherries should be pitted and soaked in bourbon with a vanilla bean for a month. That’s not so much Great Lakes Cuisine, but it sure is awesome in a Manhattan.