Step inside, and you will understand why I vied for #5days5ways with CHERRIES this week.
I visited wife-husband team Jen and Stan, the makers of everything good at Just a Taste, one of Ithaca’s greatest culinary treasures. I’ve dined here umpteen times, but I wanted to get a better sense of why eaters like me have flocked here for over a decade. And of course, all the best-kept secrets are hiding in the kitchen, where I delved in to play! I was greeted with such warmth by the couple (who first met in a restaurant kitchen!) and their devoted team of sous chefs Nate and Kyle. It’s a close family in the modest, home-sized kitchen, which proves my belief that happy cooks make happy food.
Everyone has his and her craft. Stan is a fanatic about kitchenware, and designed a special grill grate for the gas stove, which is used for cooking food on skewers but keeps the wooden sticks carefully propped away from the flames. Just a Taste is also one of the only restaurants that still receives whole slaughtered animals at the back door, and Stan takes the lead on butchering and processing the meat. Lucky me, he was slicing his house-cured prosciutto when I walked in. If I had stuck around for another hour, I would have been able to sandwich it with their to-die-for focaccia, which Nate was kneading one last time before baking.
Jen, who has a knack for desserts, was getting ready to make the frozen treat for the evening’s menu: a Cherry-Lime Sorbet, or Ice. This recipe is like all the tapas on their menu, a ballad for the season’s starring ingredients. Cultivated and wild varieties of cherries are making the trees blush right now. Heck, my cheeks and chin stain rouge when I devour this luscious fruit, and just like a hot flush, the cherries are gone before you’ve tired of them. So yes, we’re celebrating cherry season in this post, but here’s a little surprise…
Jen and I made this batch of sorbet in the middle of blustery February. In true IthaCuisine fashion, Jen froze these ruby gems last summer to keep her fruit supply happily stocked when the branches outside stripped down to their birthday suits. After pitting the cherries, our hands were nearly more frozen then the final dessert, but we IthaCooks do what we can to make a long winter more colorful! (I promise, there are no more IthaPuns).
(Read the recipe below for a super cool trick Jen taught me for testing the sugar level in sorbet and getting the perfect consistency!)
Jen is a culinary matchmaker. As we’re scooping the cherry pits into the compost, she preps me on the next step, “cherries love brown sugar because of its molasses flavor, and lime and cherries just love to go together with allspice.” We move about the space as if it were my tiny Frisch Kitchen. The air is light and calm, like morning sunbeams dancing on the hanging herbs. When I get ready to leave, the energy begins to pick up as the ice sets for the evening’s dinner guests.
I left feeling empowered by the Just a Taste team, not only because I could recreate this dish at home, but because their love for food is so profoundly centered on community. They’ve built relationships with growers and artisans over the years, and depend on them just as much as their loyal customers to keep a line coiling out the front door. Their place is charming and the fare is honest and I’m honored to have had a Behind the Scenes Taste with Jen and Stan.
- Brown Sugar - 1 cup
- Water - 4 cups
- Allspice berries - 15
- Cherries - 2.5 cups, pitted
- Limes - 15, freshly squeezed
- Orange - 1, freshly squeezed
- Combine the sugar, water and allspice berries in a medium pot and bring to a boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Add the cherries and reduce the heat to a simmer. Let the mixture cook for about ten more minutes. Skim off the foam with a spoon.
- Remove the cherry mixture from the heat and transfer to a large container for freezer storage. Add the lime and orange juice and stir.
- Now, for the coolest tip ever! You want to make sure the sugar content is right so that you get the right, smooth freeze. You don't want your sorbet to end up like slush or an impenetrable ice cube. Egg acts as a gravity meter to indicate the sugar level in liquid. Put an egg in the liquid. If it is floating high there is too much sugar (slush results). If it is floating low, it will freeze too hard. The surface area that shows should be about the size of a quarter with a small rim of egg around it, about half a centimeter. If we had silver dollars, it would probably be that size. Add water to get the right sugar level, as we're starting out with a higher concentration of sugar in this recipe. Fish out the egg after you've tested the sugah!
- Last, let the mixture cool before putting it in the freezer. If it goes in hot, it will crystalize and melt everything around it. Freeze until creamy smooth.