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Cherry Tart

Cherries became very popular in Britain towards the end of the Middle Ages, although the Romans had cultivated them much earlier, and they were very common in monastery gardens. They are often mentioned in folklore and have been linked to the cuckoo which reputedly stops singing only after it has eaten three good meals of cherries. The cherry is also associated with poetry, dancing, music and festivals. In some areas the end of the cherry-picking season is still celebrated on the first Sunday in August by baking small cherry pies called bumpers - eaten with a pint of ale.
One of the more successful trees taken by the early settlers to America was the cherry and today the American cherry pie epitomises all that is good in American home-making and baking. In the absence of a cherry stoneryou can use a potato peeler - when pushed into the cherry you can usually take out the stone without inflicting too much damage.

ingredients

serves 8
175 g (6 oz) rich sweet shortcrust pastry
450 g (1 lb) cooking (sour) cherries, stoned or a 675 g (1 1/2 lb) jar (or cans) of dark morello cherries
150 ml (1/4 pint) sour cream
225 g (8 oz) cream cheese
1 heaped teaspoon cinnamon
finely grated zest of 1 lemon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
55 g (2 oz) light soft brown sugar
3 tablespoons good quality morello cherry jam (preferably no-added-sugar jam)
1 tablespoon demerara sugar mixed with 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon, to finish

method

1. Line a shallow 23 cm (9 in) tart tin with the pastry and pre-bake or bake blind.

2. Pre-heat the oven to 190°C (375°F) Gas 5.

3. If using fresh cherries, remove the stones and stalks from three-quarters of the cherries. This requires patience but is very rewarding if undertaken sitting at a table with a good friend-and sipping something reviving. If using bottled or canned cherries, drain them thoroughly and soak up any excess liquid on kitchen paper.

4. Place the sour cream, cream cheese, cinnamon, lemon zest, eggs and soft brown sugar in a bowl and mix well to remove all the lumps of cheese. This will produce a thickish liquid mess.

5. Assemble the tart by spreading a thin layer of cherry jam on the pastry base, spoon the cheese mixture over the top, then drop the prepared fresh cherries or three-quarters of the bottled or canned cherries into the liquid. They will all but disappear with just a bit of some tops showing.

6. Sprinkle the top with the demerara sugar mixed with the cinnamon. Bake in the oven for about 35 - 40 minutes or until the filling has firmed up (the top of the cherries may look a little wizened, but a good dusting of icing sugar when cool will hide the wrinkles, if they worry you).

7. Serve with any remaining cherries, single cream and perhaps a small glass of cherry brandy.

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