About every year, just after Christmas, my uncle Wilfred brings me a box of freshly picked morello cherries from his farm in Gippsland. I love them. I make one pot of red wine pickle because pickled cherries are great with terrines, as well as roasted pork and confit duck later in the year. Then I cook another pot in sugar syrup to make cherry compote, which I use when I bake my version of my mother's Black Forest cake that I like to call chocolate cherry cake (see the recipe below). As kids, it was our most requested birthday cake. She uses a Sacher torte recipe as the base but mine is a little lighter and is finished with ganache and chocolate curls.
Cherries come from the Young and Orange districts of NSW, and Wandin, Wangaratta and Shepparton in Victoria. They can be very drought-affected, so let's hope we have good crops this year. Of the many varieties that come out from October to February (their peak season is in summer), some are a deep red, such as the Black Douglas, and others have a paler flesh inside. Cherries should be shiny and plump with green stems. They keep best in the fridge and, once pitted, will lose their juice, so use them promptly.
I refuse to buy Californian cherries in the middle of our winter because they don't have half the flavour of cherries grown and picked here. Also, eating cherries seasonally makes me cherish them because I have to wait a whole year until they're back.
From now until January, I'll be enjoying cherries in syrup over ice-cream, cherry jam, cherry crostata with lemon-scented pastry and walnuts, and cherry clafoutis - a French dessert of cherries doused in kirsch liqueur baked with a batter over the top. Fresh out of the oven, sprinkled with icing sugar and served with fresh cream, it's delicious.