~ Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup (Hideg Meggyleves) ~
In my opinion, sour cherries are one of the most regal, refined fruits you will ever eat. My grandmother simply referred to these ruby-red jewels as "pie cherries", but, if you are on a quest to purchase them, they are sometimes marketed as "tart cherries". Joe and I live at a high elevation here in Central Pennsylvania, which I have come to learn is ideal for them, which is why our tree thrives, and thrives, and thrives. That said, even in this ideal environment, the sour cherry season is quite brief, with the cherries being ready to pick at the very end of June or the very beginning of July. Picking them is a bit tricky, as they are at their absolute best if left on the tree until you think they will begin to spoil if left there one more day, while at the same time getting them all picked, at once, before the birds devour an entire tree of cherries for you.
A bit about sour cherries vs. cherries in general: Sour cherries should not be confused with their cousins, the reddish-black Bing cherry and the peachy-blush Rainier cherry. These two sweet cherries (which are larger and firmer than sour cherries) are great for eating "as is" like any other fresh fruit, but they do not make for great baked desserts. When sour cherries are cooked, they become quite sweet, plus, they hold their shape better than their sweet relatives. Sour cherries are a bit too tart to eat more than just a few out-of-hand, but they make superb preserves, pies and cobblers. That said, I make a marvelous sweet-and-savory sauce by cooking sour cherries with reduced duck stock. It is absolutely decadent served with roast duck or pan-seared duck breast, pheasant or quail.
When one finds oneself with 150 pounds of pie cherries:
Sour cherry soup? You betcha -- fruit soups are quite common in Eastern European, European and Scandinavian countries, but, this stellar stone-fruit soup was one I'd never heard of until my friend, Mike Colicchio told me about it. Mike, his wife Sue and their twin daughters, Kim and Jen, lived in Hungary a few years ago, and, it seems this soup won a place in all of their hearts.
"Meggyleves", is a traditional Summertime Hungarian treat -- "meggy" means "sour cherries", "leves" means soup, and, "hideg" means "cold". Every family has their version and it's usually served before the meal. In Hungary, this soup is typically prepared with un-pitted cherries, but, American versions commonly stray from that. It's always made from tart cherries, never sweet cherries, cherry juice, water, sugar, flour and sour cream (which gives it its pretty pink color). Lemon slices, cinnamon sticks, cloves and brandy or sherry are common additions. I "cherry picked" through a few recipes to plan my version, and, one thing the experts all agree on is: use fresh or frozen cherries (which, when thawed, provide a nice amount of juice), not cherries that come out of a can or a jar (which they consider an insulting compromise). Once the soup is cooked and chilled, it is sometimes blended until smooth prior to serving garnished with a few freshly-picked cherries.
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 whole cinnamon sticks
6 whole cloves
6 cups water
2 cups sour cream
4-6 tablespoons cherry brandy
6 tablespoons Wondra Flour
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
fresh, sour cherries for garnishing each portion (optional)
~ Step 1. Place cherries and all juice, sugar, cinnamon sticks, cloves and water in a wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot. Stir and allow to sit, for about 5 minutes, stirring off and on, to dissolve sugar.
Note: For those occasions when meggyleves is served as a dessert, or, if you just like your soup a little sweeter, the experts say it is ok to stir 2 tablespoons Confectioners' sugar into the sour cream mixture as well. I am not adding any today.
~ Step 3. When the cherries are cooked, temper the sour cream mixture with a soup ladleful of the hot cherry liquid, stir until smooth, then add all of the sour cream mixture to the cooked cherries in the pot. Bring to a very gentle simmer and barely simmer, do not boil, for 15-16 more minutes.
~ Step 4. Remove from heat, cover, and allow to steep and cool for 2-4 hours. Refrigerate, covered, for several hours or overnight. Soup will thicken as it cools. Note: Covering keeps a sticky film from forming on the surface. Serve cold.
~ Optional Step 5. Using a hand-held stick blender, process soup until smooth, then, serve cold.
Pretty in pink: old-school whole-cherry hideg meggyleves:
(Freeze 1-quart of chilled soup in your gelato or ice-crem machine, as per manufacturer's directions, for 45-60 minutes. Is best if eaten immediately. Since it contains no milk or cream, it is not technically ice cream, but, the tangy sour cream makes it better in taste and texture than best frozen yogurt you've ever tasted.)
Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup (Heideg Meggyleves): Recipe yields 11-12 cups, or, about 3 quarts, or, about 6-8, 1 1/2-2 cup servings. Leftovers, which are a joy if you have any, will keep well in the refrigerator for 2-3 days. Do not freeze leftover soup.
Special Equipment List: cherry pitter; wide-bottomed 4-quart stockpot; 1-quart measuring container; large spoon, soup ladle; hand-held stick blender (optional)
Cook's Note: I just love this new-to-me chilled, Summertime, sour-cherry soup recipe. Thanks again Mike. For one I grew up eating, equally as decadent, ~ It's A Dad Thing: Strawberry Soup ~, can be found in Categories 6, 11, 12 or 21.
"We are all in this food world together." ~ Melanie Preschutti
(Recipe, Commentary and Photos courtesy of Melanie's Kitchen/2015)