Life is just a bowl of (sour) cherries

What's that, you ask? Just some insanely delicious, super authentic, chilled Hungarian fruit soup made with sour cherries I grew on my very own tree in northeast Washington, D.C. No big deal. Oh? you'd like to try some yourself? That is a most excellent idea. Because it might just be the Best Thing Ever.  And, if you can track down tart cherries (either on your own tree, or elsewhere), it's really quite easy to make.

Recipe after the jump!

Cold fruit soup is on every Hungarian menu in the summer months. There are lots of variations -- peaches, plums and apricots make frequent appearances, and trendier restaurants often mix things up with imported tropical fruits. But the queen of them all is this old school concoction called meggyleves (literally, sour cherry soup). Perhaps because good sour cherries are hard to find, (or more likely because I'm intimidated by Jutka's alchemy), I've never actually tried to make meggyleves myself. But we've done a lot of work on our yard recently, including planting several fruit trees, and when the kiddies and I picked our inaugural ruby treasures, there was no question as to the destiny of our tart little haul...

Hideg Meggyleves -- Hungarian Cold Sour Cherry Soup

2-3  pints of sour cherries. More would be lovely. Since our tree is just a baby, and thus produced a baby-sized harvest, we supplemented with a big handful or two of sweet Bings from the store, and the results were still tangy and delicious. It's not an exact science...

Cherry juice (we used most of a 32oz. bottle of Knudsen's)

~2 Tbs. flour

~1 Tbs. sugar, or more to taste

~1 Tbs. whole cloves (Libby brought me some from a spice plantation in India!)

1 cinnamon stick

1 generous cup sour cream (some people prefer sweet cream, or a mixture of both sweet and sour...)

Zest of one lemon

~1 Tbs. fresh lemon juice

Ice cream or whipped cream to serve

In a medium pot, cover the cherries with a mixture of about 1 part water and 3-4 parts unsweetened cherry juice, and a bit of sugar, then bring it all to a slow boil. Meanwhile, tie your cloves in a bit of cheese cloth, and add them along with the cinnamon stick to the pot (you could just toss the unbundled cloves in, too -- which is what I did -- but you'll never fish them all out once the soup thickens, and biting into a super-pungent, fresh-from-the-plantation clove is... intense).

In a separate bowl, mix several Tbs. of the hot cherry water with the flour; when that's smooth and runny, whisk it back into the pot, and gently simmer for about 10 minutes, until the soup is somewhat thickened and the cherries are tender. Stir in the lemon zest and 1 Tbs. lemon juice, then set it aside for an hour or so. Once the soup is cool, fish out your spices, then whisk some cherry soup together with the sour cream in a separate bowl until it's totally smooth. Stir the diluted cream back into the soup. I know all this whisking in separate bowls can be annoying, but not nearly as annoying as finding lumps in your beautiful brew. It's worth it. Set it back in the fridge for several hours until it's thoroughly chilled.

Hungarians serve this as a starter, often with a little shot of whipped cream. Charity, Liberty and I opted to veer naughty, and topped ours with scoops of the world's best Grape Nut ice cream for an indulgent and doubly-nostalgic Sunday night treat. Somehow the malty-sweet ice cream was the perfect counterpoint to the soup's tart pucker, and I'm rather pleased with the innovation (even if it was Libby's idea).

**On a practical note, I'm sure you can easily adapt this recipe to work with frozen or preserved fruit. I've heard that Trader Joe's sells excellent Morello cherries jarred in light syrup -- I bet you could substitute the canning liquid for the cherry juice and sugar, and otherwise follow the directions here. If anyone tries this method with fantastic success, please let me know -- I don't think I want to wait until next June's cherry harvest to try this again!