an inch of purple


‘There is always a chance it will explode’  Gabriella said almost smiling, suggesting that this was all part of the process, that the possibility of cherries, wine and sugar seeping between the terra-cotta tiles and dripping from her roof was a risk she was prepared to take. We were in Abruzzo, sitting at Gabriella and Mario’s table after a very long, very good dinner at their agriturismo in the hills near Loreto Aprutino, the kind of dinner that renews your faith in food, before us a small glass of inky-purple liquid. ‘Sour cherries, Montepulciano d’Abruzzo wine and sugar are macerated in a large, teardrop shaped glass bottle that sits on the roof in high summer for 40 days and 40 nights’ Gabriella explained. As we tried not to slide under the table, she talked about the science or magic of the process, how the heat of high summer halts fermentation but precipitates maceration. Or at least it should, hence the possible, if extremely rare, explosion. It crossed my mind I should be concentrating more, taking notes even, but that thought slipped away as easily as the lip staining elixir slipped down my throat. The taste lingered, I wondered what Gabriella did with the cherries seeped in wine, how they got the bottle on the roof, how they got the cherries out of the bottle, if we could have another glass?

Nine months later in Rome the first of the cherries, some crimson, others deep purple, are splattering the market with colour. We have been eating them by the kilo, greedily, spitting stones into our fists and grabbing another handful in a sort of cherry race. Then on Sunday at the small but great farmers market in the old slaughterhouse I found the first of the sour cherries, paler than usual, sweet as much as sour, reminiscent of almonds and almost the wrong side of perfect ripeness. They spent the night in the colander while I changed my mind about what to do with them which meant by the following morning there was no time to think or waste. I put them in a pan along with a few sweet cherries too, bay leaves, big lazy curls of lemon peel, some sugar and then let it all bubble into a fragrant, syrupy, shirt staining stew.


I like cherries cooked in this way with plain yogurt or creme fraiche, something so sweet and aromatic needs a sharp and plain partner, otherwise it is all too cloying. Both Luca and Vincenzo turned their nose up at the offer of fruit for breakfast, which was a relief, more for me. Then last night, I spooned a few cherries and their syrup into my last inch of red wine, which happened to be Montepulciano D’Abruzzo and convinced Vincenzo to do the same. Then rather than continuing our argument disguised as a discussion we talked about Abruzzo and that small glass of inky elixir. Granted ours was hardly Gabriella’s cherry and wine alchemy, but it was reminiscent of it, the poached cherries and syrup mingling with the bold wine into some thing between a pudding and a liquer. It was a dark, sweet, boozy and fragrant finish a meal, the sort of finish I like best.

I am going to make these cherries the next time we have friends over for supper and then get people to put them in their wine‘ I said, at which Vincenzo rolled his eyes so intently they almost disappeared into his head. So we both had another inch of wine, another spoonful of cherries, decided to go back to Abruzzo this autumn, forget about the argument and any plans for supper guests until Luca isn’t a terrible toddler and I have finished the book, cleared up and went to fall asleep in front of the telly.


Poached cherries with lemon and bay leaves (which you can put in wine if you like)

When I first wrote this post there was no recipe as it had all been so flippant and the nature of the recipe is one of tasting and judging by eye. However I have now added this, which is still imprecise, which I hope you will forgive me for. The amount of sugar here depends on the cherries and your taste. For a mixture of sweet and sour cherries I use about 150 – 200g of sugar. I suggest adding 100 g for every kg but then tasting and adding more if you feel it needs it. Cooking times depends: you want to fruit to be soft and the syrup full-bodied. You do not need to add more liquid as the cherries have enough of their own.

  • 1 kg cherries ideally a mixture of sour and sweet cherries but just sweet will do
  • 4 or 5 strips of lemon peel with as little white pith as possible
  • sugar to taste
  • 3 bay leaves

Pit the cherries and then put them in a pan with the rest of the ingredients and sit over a low flame, stir until the sugar has dissolved and the cherries released plentiful juice and then simmer for 5 – 8 minutes or so or until the cherries are soft and the syrup richly flavored – Taste after about 3 minutes and add more sugar if necessary. Some people then remove the cherries with a slotted spoon and then reduce the syrup until it is thick before uniting the two again in a jar. I don’t do this. Serve with plain thick yogurt, mascarpone, quark, over chocolate cake or into the end of your wine. Keep in a jar in the fridge.



Filed under cherries, fruit, In praise of, jams and preserves, wine

43 responses to “an inch of purple

  1. josie farinacci

    I usually don’t comment but “Wow”, your post is nudging me to return to Italy this summer but I’ll have to wait until next year. Congrats on the book – I can’t wait to get my hands on it. I hope it will be available here in Montreal. Josie Date: Fri, 6 Jun 2014 13:23:28 +0000 To:

  2. There is nothing better than the taste of cherries. I remember the different variety of cherry trees on our farm in Germany. My Dad used to put them in a crockpot and add rum. It turned into a potent topping for ice cream. I love jam made with sour cherries.

    • rachel

      My German friend here in Rome makes a crockpot filled with rum and fruit and I promise myself every year that I will do one to…..yes to sour cherry jam x

  3. I wish cherries (of both kind) were more plentiful (and more affordable) here… I guess we just need to come to Rome to get our fill!

  4. laura

    “Discussion” in Italian is, of course, an argument! 🙂
    Absolutely brilliant first paragraph!
    PS … in re your comment on Instagram, quality is better than quantity … and you ALWAYS give us quality!

    • rachel

      ha, yes so true, sorry to be so slow, I do hope you know I love your comments and knowing you are around, hope all is well x

  5. Hi R., I missed your voice, but this is beautiful and so veru worth the wait! My grandma has a cherry tree. We used to eat so many just by the handful, like you say, that very few made it into any kind of recipe, which is a shame as I wish I could try this with cherries that were decently affordable (unlike here…). Keeping my fingers crossed, perhaps there will still be some in early July when I will be there. xx

    • rachel

      Hi V, you see you have all this in your DNA, I envy that sometimes as i think I will never really understand these deep rooted traditions. I am glad to have friends around me like you x

  6. Lovely – I just love the inky blackness you describe. I want to get some cherries now – you have succeeded. Sophie x

  7. You have made us all crave cherries now, saving a few to add to the last inch of the wine.

  8. The recipe from the place in Abruzzo is the type that I’m completely fascinated with in Italy. It is that knowledge, those little peculiar bits and pieces of traditions that are the most amazing things for me to discover. I want to do a book of those, but then, I think, that would completely ruin them. Because they are all little secrets of those people, in those places, why ruin them by giving them to the world. Plus, part of the magic, as you say, is not knowing how, why, when, but just doing it. You can’t translate that into a recipe.
    My grandparents also had cherries, and when the birds didn’t get them, we always made, as us Americans would, cherry pie.
    I miss those pies.

    • rachel

      Me too, and I think you should do that book, these things need to be documented by both Italians and others who share the fascination and a determination to preserve traditions that are fading away so fast. Rx

  9. This looks great. The macerating/fermenting cherries is so appealing I may just try it. But I’ll also make this. It can sit next to the fat jar of lemon curd in the fridge, one more option on breakfast yogurt. Thanks. Ken

    • rachel

      You would love the agritourismo we visited, a quite extraordinary place and kind, generous people and such good food. Lemon curd…. now it has been too long

  10. Aleph

    Your pictures are always stunning!
    I love cherries but I tend to eat them so fast that I rarely get to cook with them… I’ll try this one.

  11. Amy

    great writing in this post, something about it felt like the sentences were just rolling and tumbling together. matched the mood

  12. Do you know that today there is a sagra of cherries in the center of Rome? Didn’t go, to hot to move but I would kill to try your cherries anytime!

  13. I’ve just returned from a holiday in Italy and finally adjusting to reality again. Now I’ve read your post I want to go back! ! And I want cherries 🙂

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  15. myherbkitchen

    Gah! This looks absolutely amazing!! I became obsessed with cherries last year when they were in season in the UK. I’m eagerly awaiting the season to start again! x

    • rachel

      The combination of cherries and wine is a good one, I am so slow in replying I think your season has now started…..cherry away x

  16. :)

    Lovely cherries series 🙂

  17. I am so eager to cook with cherries this summer. This sounds magical.

  18. Really can’t wait to read your book!

  19. bay leaves with cherries?! must try that. Our local cherries are almost here.

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  22. Rachel, I reread this today–I’m going to make it after a serendipitous discovery of some sour cherries–and I just wanted to add that “our argument disguised as discussion..” is brilliant. Seemingly offhand, but cutting to the quick. Ken

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