Sweetness abounds in the summertime on Long Island. Our gardens, farm stands and farmers markets are chock-full of sun-ripened sweetness. From beans and corn to peppers and tomatoes, our summer harvest is as luscious as it is abundant. Still, the sweetest taste of summer comes from Mother Nature’s confection, fruit. Whether you grow your own, pick your own, select your own at a market or forage for it, fresh local fruit is one of the purest indulgences of summer. Early summer gives us strawberries and rhubarb; mid-summer welcomes sweet cherries and the berry harvest: black, blue, boysen, goose, huckle and rasp; and late summer brings on figs, grapes, melons and stone fruit: nectarines, peaches, plums, beach plums and native black cherries.
If happiness is a bowl of cherries, than summer should be overflowing with local Prunus happiness, right? Well not so much. While native black cherries, Prunus serotina, grow in nearly every park on Long Island, according to naturalist Steve “Wildman” Brill, unless they grow in full sun in areas supported by many black cherry trees, the pickings at harvest time (late summer) will be slim. Fire Island hot spot Cherry Grove is named for the large number of black cherry trees that once inhabited the island, and the trees still thrive at the Sunken Forest at Sailor’s Haven, just west of the Grove. Visitors to the Sunken Forest are permitted to pick a maximum of two quarts of cherries per visit. Sweet cherry trees, Prunus avium, are the “feral form of the commercially grown cherry, created from seeds dropped by birds and not from cuttings,” explains Brill. Bottom line, wild cherries can be found and foraged on Long Island. Word to the wise, always be sure that you have permission prior to foraging.
Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue is the only grower of sweet cherries on Long Island. Gekee Wickham explains that cherries are a very difficult crop to grow, “cherries never make money for us. Why do we grow cherries? Way back when, Tom’s (Wickham) father said, ‘I like to grow the crops that I like to eat.’” Like many of us, the Wickhams love cherries. “When you get to pick a ripe cherry off a tree, it is like God’s gift to you,” discloses Mrs. Wickham, “It is like out of this world. Once you taste that, nothing evermore tastes like that. It is like the sweetest nectar in the whole wide world.”
Without a doubt, a bowl of cherries is perfectly happy and delectable unembellished. Our recipe for Summer Pavlova, featuring plums and cherries, gives local cherries a bit of well-deserved elaboration. Have a happy summer!
Recipe by Cameron Prather
4 egg whites, room temperature
Pinch kosher salt
1 cup granulated sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon white vinegar
1 teaspoon cornstarch
2 pints of fresh fruit, macerated with a little sugar (we used plums and cherries)
Fresh whipped cream
Heat your oven to 250°. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. With a pencil, trace a 9-inch circle, or four 4-inch circles, on the parchment. Turn the parchment over.
Place the egg whites and a pinch of salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and, using the whisk attachment on high, whisk until stiff peaks form, 4 to 5 minutes. Reduce the speed to medium and slowly add the sugar over 2 minutes. Stop and scrape down the sides of the bowl. Increase the speed to high and whisk until the mixture is smooth and glossy and stiff peaks form, 6 to 7 minutes. Decrease the speed to low and add the vanilla, vinegar and cornstarch. Mix just to combine.
Gently spoon the meringue onto the parchment and spread to fit the shape of the circle, forming a slight well in the center. Place the meringue into the oven and bake for 45 minutes.
Turn off the heat and leave in the oven for 3 hours, or until the meringue is crisp and dry on the outside. Open the oven door and cool completely before removing from the oven, approximately 30 minutes.
Just before serving, top with a mixture of fresh summer fruit. We used fresh plums and cherries, tossed with a little sugar and some of Miss Amy’s Beach Plum Preserves. Top with fresh whipped cream, if desired.