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Will my quest for the perfect cherry ever come to fruition?

July 2009

I am sitting here with some wonderful cherries, a bowlful of ripe red sweet ones from British Columbia. There is something truly magnificent about a good cherry: the dark red almost primal colour that flows evenly through the interior. Unlike an apple – green or red skin but white within, sweet or tart, delicious or not (who knows what I will bite into?) – the cherry is an honest fruit. (A young George Washington allegedly did chop down a cherry tree, after all). Other fruits have different shades of ripeness, but when it comes to cherries, you’ve either got a good one or you haven’t.

Then there is the pit. You have to be careful of the pit. One false bite and it’s crown time. We bite eagerly into an apple (none of us really believe that there could be a worm in there anymore) but we take our time with a cherry. We have learned to be careful, to savour each one. The cherry is a basic slow food. It tells us “don’t take me for granted.” And, of course, there is the succulent taste. A good cherry is rich and winy with a burst of juice in the mouth. It should be a touch tart, but mostly sweet with a deep, complex flavour. This is Flavourguy food and, since it is at its best seasonally, I indulge to excess.

But the problem isn’t eating too much. If it is all good, why not? A handful has fewer than 100 calories. The problem is deciding how much is enough. At a certain point I know that I have had my fill of cherries and yet still I keep eating. What am I looking for? Does my body have a cherry deficiency? I think not.

A couple of years ago I helped make a film called Chez Schwartz, about Montreal’s legendary Schwartz’s Deli. In it a young man talks about how he used to go regularly with his father. “One day,” he says, “I was eating a smoked meat sandwich and I had the perfect bite. I knew that there would never be another just as good. But what could I do? I couldn’t stop eating the sandwich. I had to finish it although I knew that it would never be the same.”

I knew just what he meant. I follow the same pattern with roast chicken, rare roast beef, and smoked salmon. There are certain foods that practically force me to keep munching long after I have eaten. You’ll see me in the kitchen, scoring an extra nibble of crispy skin as I bring the platter back, or late at night slicing off a little bit more from the roast resting in the refrigerator.

There is a delicious decadence in this but really, why do I want more? The answer, I think, is that I am searching for that original primal taste that lured me to love that food in the first place. Back in my mind’s archetype, a cell retains my first memory of a wonderfully delicious cherry. Put a bowl beside me today and a nerve ending explodes with longing. I eat all of those cherries looking for that original cherry. Ditto for smoked turkey, Stilton cheese, rice pudding and really fresh rye bread.

There are certain foods that the Flavourguy could live happily without, such as anything in aspic, sea urchin, and (yup) chocolate flavoured beer. One sip of that was plenty. But cherries are another matter. I’ll cheerfully eat them every summer and when I encounter a bad batch or a handful of bruised fruit, it doesn’t mean that cherries have gone bad. Nope, I keep munching away, knowing that somewhere is that perfect, impossible fruit, the one that captures the past of indelible memory.

My wife Celina makes a wonderful berry pie with whatever fruit is seasonal. We invariably have too much at the end of the summer so she freezes the fruit and we enjoy her pies all year long. She likes a mix of cranberries, blueberries and service berries (also known as Saskatoon berries), but any combination should do.

For one standard pie crust (she prefers Tenderflake), mix 5 cups of fresh or defrosted berries with a half cup of sugar (if you are worried about the sugar, substitute half of it with a no-calorie sweetener such as Splenda). Add an eighth of a cup each of arrow root powder and flour. Preheat the oven to 450F (230C) Pour the berry mixture into the pie crust and cook for 10 minutes, then reduce the oven to 350F (175C) for 45 minutes. Serve with vanilla ice cream.

Barry Lazar is the Flavourguy. You can reach him at or follow him at



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