Side Dish: George Washington and cherries

Photo provided by California Cherries
Photo provided by California Cherries

By Cheramie Sonnier

A copy of a Gilbert Stuart portrait of George Washington always hung somewhere, usually over the teacher’s desk, in every one of my elementary school classrooms. In fact, most classrooms across the United States also displayed a portrait of the first president and sometimes one of Abraham Lincoln, too.

My teachers would point to the portraits when discussing Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, which both fall in February, Washington’s on Feb. 22, 1732, and Lincoln’s on Feb. 12, 1809.

I don’t remember my children’s classrooms displaying the two presidents’ portraits. When did the practice end? Could it have been after 1968 when the third Monday in February was declared Presidents’ Day, a federal holiday?

Children also heard the fables about Washington throwing a silver dollar across the Potomoc River and admitting that he chopped down his father’s cherry tree. The latter story explains why cherries are associated with Presidents’ Day even though cherry season doesn’t begin until May. But cherries are available either dried or frozen year-round.

As a fan of cherries, I’m always happy for an excuse to make something with the succulent fruit. Celebrate Presidents’ Day or Washington’s birthday by making a cherry tart. I was sent the recipe by Mary Helen Hamilton, a member of my dinner club who says she finds dried cherries at Southside Produce.

The tart is delicious and guests will be asking for seconds.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s Food editor. Her email address is csonnier@theadvocate.com.

Advocate-tested recipe

Cherry Tart

Serves 8 to 10. Recipe is from Bon App├ętit, May 2002.

Crust:

2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp. salt

1 cup chilled unsalted butter, cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 large egg

Filling:

1 cup cherry preserves

1/2 cup chopped dried Bing (sweet) cherries (about 21/2 ozs.)

1/2 tsp. grated lemon peel

1/4 tsp. almond extract

1/4 cup unsalted natural pistachios, chopped

Glaze:

1 large egg

2 tbls. whole milk

2 tbls. sugar

1. For Crust: Combine flour, sugar and salt in processor; blend 5 seconds. Add butter and cut in, using on/off turns, until mixture resembles fine meal. Add egg and process just until moist clumps form.

2. Gather dough into ball; divide in half. Flatten each half into disk. Wrap in plastic and chill until firm enough to roll, about 1 hour. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead; keep chilled.)

3. For Filling: Position rack in bottom third of oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Mix preserves, chopped cherries, peel and almond extract in medium bowl.

4. Roll out 1 dough disk on lightly floured surface to an 11-inch round. Transfer round to 9-inch-diameter tart pan with removable bottom. Press dough gently into pan; trim overhang even with top of pan sides.

5. Spread filling in crust; sprinkle with pistachios.

6. Roll out second dough disk on lightly floured surface to 11-inch round; cut into 3/4-inch wide strips. Arrange several strips, spaced 3/4 inch apart, over filling. Top with more strips at slight angle, forming lattice. Press strip ends to edge of pan, trimming overhang.

7. For Glaze: Beat egg and whole milk in small bowl to blend. Brush some of glaze over lattice crust; sprinkle with 2 tablespoons sugar.

8. Bake tart until crust is golden brown and cherry filling is bubbling thickly, about 1 hour 5 minutes. Cool tart completely in pan on rack. (Tart can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and store at room temperature.)