Thursday, July 2, 2009

Coming soon: Pitsicles

In the morning we saw Peter Hoffman (Savoy and Back Forty) at the Greenmarket. The adorable bumptious Ali at Maxwell Farms introduced us, in her effervescent, casual way, to the living legend. “Oh!” he said. “I’ve heard of you guys. Very cool. Hey, you should put these sour cherries into your pops.”

“No way,” I said. Cherries have burned us before. Last year at New Amsterdam, we bought $60 worth of cherries with which to make a shave ice syrup. Ben spent all afternoon pitting them, but as soon as we pureed the cherries, they turned an unappetizing shade of caca brown. Colin tried to save the day by suggesting we add cocoa as a scapegoat for color, and because cherries and chocolate pair so allegedly well, but the end result was still so gross that although we halfheartedly tried to sell it at a knock-down price as “The Experiment,” we gave up when we realized none of us actually liked it. At all.

“Those were sweet cherries, I’ll bet,” said Peter Hoffman. “Cook these sour ones with sugar, like you would to make jam. The color’s amazing and the taste will blow your mind.”

When Peter Hoffman says these things, you listen. You buy. You take the cherries to Coney Island where you cook, de-stem them (you forgot that that would take an hour), watch them ripple like expensive marbles as you pour them into a big jam pot, add some sugar and turn on the heat. He’s right. They turn a gorgeous ruby red and are piquant and full-flavored, nothing like the washed-out, wimpily saccharine hash sweet cherries grown in rainy weather make in the mouth.

I’d figured that cherries cooked with sugar, like damsons, would burst and that the pits, buoyantly released, would float to the top. Boy, did I figure wrong.

What transpired were FOUR HOURS of hunting down cherry pits while Joel cleaned 15 pounds of rhubarb, hulled 24 quarts of strawberries, pureed and strained the strawberries and rhubarb, mixed them to taste with syrup, poured them into molds, fit them with pop sticks, froze them, cleaned up around me, and laughed at my sorry ass. And when I say pitting cherries, what I mean is wading through a heaving morass of cherry corpses picking out, with clumsy begloved fingers, a thousand little nuggets of lawsuit-waiting-to-happen. They clung desperately to the flesh like souls refusing to leave dead bodies, hiding under skins, skirting my thumbs. After a three hours, with lunch still eluding us, I started to hallucinate. My eyes were swimming in the brutal, blood-red vat of mashed-up cherries in the pan before me. I felt like a surgeon buried elbow-deep in an open carcass. “Can’t we leave some in here?” I asked Joel. “Like the golden ticket in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. First person to find one wins a prize.”

“Like what?” he retorted. “Mouth-to-mouth from David?”

“We can call them pitsicles,” I said. “Seriously. Let’s turn this into value.”

“Shut up and keep pitting,” said Joel. “I’m not going to jail for ice pop malpractice.”

We ended up making only about half as many pops as usual. But they’re going rock out, I think. And I’m pretty sure we got every single pit out. If you happen to find one, you win a prize….oh god please don’t sue us. Still, it hit me today: I can’t believe I’m paying someone for the privilege of pitting cherries in their space. That’s math I can’t handle. Anybody for a $10 pop? Pitsicle, anyone??


John said...

Wow, that is an amazing story. I do hope to get my hands on a popsicle!

Molly said...

reminds me of the work i used to do at ballymaloe and the hallucinations that followed...

Unknown said...

you make me giggle. PITsicles!!