I know the Flathead is renowned for sweet cherries, but I prefer tart ones. Typically smaller and bright red, you may have only tasted these baked into pies, with plenty of sugar. But fresh off the tree, they pop with a sweet-and-sour flavor I can’t resist.
I was lucky enough to grow up with both a sweet and a tart cherry tree. Perhaps I came to love sour “pie cherries” because birds often cleaned out our giant Bing tree before we could harvest much from it. Or maybe the smaller pie cherry tree was just easier to climb into so I could try to pop its fruit into my mouth before the sticky juice ran down my arms.
This year, late spells of cold and rain stunted blossoms and fruit on our sweet cherry trees, like they have for most commercial growers in the Flathead Valley and throughout the Pacific Northwest. The sweet cherry crop has been delayed a couple of weeks, and hungry birds have been checking out the fruit before it even ripens. Our sole tart tree is late too, but it’s loaded with a promising couple of gallons’ worth of cherries.
When the first few cherries ripen, I’ll harvest and pit enough to fill a cup and then bake scones just before bed, when the temperature has cooled and I can stand to heat the oven. That way, they’re waiting for me in the morning. Sour cream keeps scones moist, and its tang – especially from homemade sour cream – pairs nicely with sour cherries.
I intentionally use little sugar in this recipe to showcase the tart flavors, but you can go sweeter by tossing the cherries with a little granulated sugar, along with the cinnamon, and sprinkling raw sugar on the scones. You can also choose a sweeter fruit, including sweet Flathead cherries and huckleberries.
Sour Cream and Cherry Scones
Makes 8 scones
1 cup pitted fresh or frozen cherries
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup cold unsalted butter, cut into chunks
1 cup sour cream
Coarse raw sugar for topping (optional)
Coarsely chop the cherries, fresh or still frozen. Place them in a small bowl and toss with the cinnamon until coated. In a mixing bowl, combine the flour, brown sugar, salt, baking soda and butter with a fork or your fingertips until the dough becomes mealy and starts to form small clumps. In a glass measuring cup or small bowl, whisk together the sour cream and egg; stir them into the dough with the fork until just mixed. Gently fold in the cherries to avoid overmixing.
Divide the dough into eight wedges or rounds, placing them on a greased baking sheet. Sprinkle with raw sugar or additional cinnamon, if desired. Bake at 400°F for about 15 minutes, until lightly browned.
Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.
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