Make the most of Ireland’s short cherry season

JP McMahon: Here are two ways to enjoy the wild cherry

The Irish cherry season is a short one. Even though one can find cherries from elsewhere on any given day during winter in Ireland, I love to embrace the shortness of the season as a way of understanding the temporal nature of food on this island.

The Irish wild cherry (silín) is a hard one to find nowadays, but it has sustained us on this island since at least the Bronze Age. Cherry stones were unearthed during excavations in Offaly that date back millennia.

These wild cherries are very sour and we may find it difficult to eat them raw. Our modern palates have moved to more sugary notes. My favourite way to preserve cherries is either to pickle them or salt them in a 5 per cent brine solution (50g salt per litre of water). They’re best kept in the fridge or a cool place as they will hold their shape better.

Because of their high pectin content, cherries make excellent jams and jellies. Food historian Regina Sexton showed me a cherry marmalade recipe from 1666 which was part of Dorothy Parson's recipe collection in Birr Castle.

To make cherry marmalade and cherry liquor:

To make the marmalade, take 2kg of stoned cherries and add 450g of sugar. Place in a heavy bottomed pot and bring to a gentle boil. Bring the mixture to the setting temperature (105 degrees) and then place in sterilised jars or a plastic container with a lid.

Cherry liquor is an old Irish tipple. This would have been made by adding wild cherries to a base alcohol such as whiskey or brandy. To make cherry whiskey, take 500g of whole cherries, 750ml of whiskey and 250g of brown sugar. Mix and leave in a dark place for three to six months. It will be good by Christmas time. The sugar is not essential and can be added in the form of syrup or cordial after maturation.

Of course, the simplest way to enjoy Irish cherries is with some icing sugar and softly whipped cream.