I’ve taken to cycling at the crack of dawn with my lady pals, pedaling up and out of Ithaca’s valley in the morning mist for an hour or so. Though I’m reticent to wake before 8 a.m., the promise of pumping endorphins to my brain while catching sweet conversation between cars and climbs is too good to miss. I start my day charged, on the highest of notes.
On other days, we switch to sundown rides, when we have more time to meander on Stewart Park’s lakefront trails or through the Cornell Plantations. The trees are in full bloom right now, busting out their fall fruits before the winter destroys their chance to reproduce for yet another year.
This past week my dear friend Sarah asked if we could do a forage ride: “the Cornellian cherries are ready!” I learned early on that if Sarah ever proposes eating from forested or urban wilderness, I’m in! Sarah turns every day foliage – those bushes and shrubs and trees we pass casually every day – into Willy Wonka’s wonderland. This is how I first ate wild ramps and wild mustard and flowers whose names have now slipped my mind (watch Foraging for Wild Ramps and Wild Ramp Pesto, starring Sarah!). I discover a world FULL of food, ripe for the taking.
This is how we found ourselves in Stewart Park, with empty plastic bags and salty skin to feed the mosquitos. Sarah peeled off her cycling shoes and socks, letting the dewy grass tickle the bottom of her feet. I followed suit, and darted for a tree heavy with cherries the size of bloated blueberries, but more oval in shape. The fallen fruit squelched underfoot, dying the creases between my toes bloody red. We shook the branches over our bags, letting the cherries drop in by the dozen. They were mostly cross-eyed tart, but a perfectly ripe cherry was sweet, luscious and delicious beyond belief. A few families wandered by, eyeing us curiously. We chuckled and stuffed ourselves silly until the mosquitos become unbearably pesky and sent us home with our free purchase from the giving trees.
(Remember, when harvesting wild edibles, leave at least 90% of the harvest, or more since it’s hard to tell who’s come before.)
After devouring the ripest cherries and I decided to infuse bourbon with the rest of my batch, since stone fruit was still plentiful in my kitchen and apples just announcing their arrival. I found loads of recipes online that all claimed different methods for making cherry-infused liquor. I crafted this simple recipe with a splash of inspiration and a pinch of instinct. I couldn’t be bothered to pit the whole lot of cherries, since they were skinny with flesh. I pitted the juiciest fruit, and gently crushed the skin of the pitted cherries to help them mingle with the bourbon.
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 pint cherries, half of batch pitted
- 1 quart bourbon, an affordable brand you like (Jim Beam)
- 1 quart glass jar
- Combine honey, cherries and bourbon in a quart jar. Shake.
- Store in a cool, dark cabinet for up to 3 weeks, shaking every other day or when you feel so inclined.
- When you are satisfied, if not joyful with the flavor, strain the bourbon through a fine mesh bag or cheesecloth into another clean quart jar. Store the infused liquor in your wet bar.
- Save the cherries! Remove all of the pits and pile the cherries atop Fig, Lavender and Pecan Brownies, Chocolate Chili Derby Pie, or your favorite double scoop of ice cream.