For me, summer officially starts with strawberries and continues with cherries. We have four cherry trees in our orchard, one is an old one right at our front door, of which many people from our village keep nice memories, because Uncle Jóska, my grandmother’s brother-in-law often gave away from its fruits. The poor tree was highly affected by the renovation of our house, even though everybody tried to pay extra attention to it. Some branches broke and also some roots close to the ground level had to be cut off. We still had a very good harvest last year- maybe too much fruit was also a problem considering the state and age of the tree- but at the end of the summer it looked terrible.
We were standing under the naked branches and drooping leaves with András, the garden expert of the village and discussing the possible causes of the problem.
‘Cutting off those roots couldn’t do any harm. This tree is so big that its roots are growing even in the neighbour’s garden. There is something else here.’ he was meditating.
I sadly looked at its thick trunk, which we had to protect agains an army of ants years ago, its wide crown which gives such a pleasant shade to our house in the summer. And of course I was thinking about the red-blushed yellow cherries which my grandmother recognises as “strudel cherries”. Those cherries gave me some comfort when we were forced to begin a complete renovation after a burst pipe.
I believe trees have souls, I even talk to them sometimes. I talked to her as well (I write ‘her’ because I think it is a nice, elderly lady), I explained, how necessary the renovation was and how we intentionally designed the new added part of the house around her. Because we wanted to keep her, because we love her. I was talking, she was listening.
Then András, the gardener pruned it radically and we started waiting.
The cherry tree has survived winter. Some upper branches have withered though, as if the tree found it too ambitious to grow so big concerning her age. Nevertheless we are having a wonderful harvest and it came so natural to share it with András. Its cherries are more than enough for two families.
The other three trees down the orchard produce dark red, shiny cherries and are likely to turn ripe a little bit later. Two of them could surely win the prize for the tallest cherry tree in the village, although they have been radically pruned last year.
I feel like a kid in the sweet shop. I am going to cook sweet-sour cherry jam so I can use up the rest of the deep-frozen sour cherries from last year. And maybe this year I will be finally brave enough to make strudels.
But I think, as a start I should make something, easier first, as a kind of warming up.
So I decide to bake cherry meringue pie, based on the recipe found in the family recipe collection of the famous Hungarian writer, Magda Szabó.
I discovered this book at the annual handcraft’s market in Veszprém and was just about to buy it, when somebody (my sister) took it out of my hands.
‘No, no you are not allowed to buy this book’, she told me quickly, and looked at my mother, who nodded and sent me away from the book stand.
I walked away laughing, then kept waiting for months. Christmas, Easter and my birthday have passed by, but the book didn’t appear from in any of the gift boxes. Then, on my name day, I decided to timidly ask, just to make it sure. My mother is amazing in hiding gifts, but she happens to completely forget about them sometimes.
‘Oh, my godness’, she tapped on her forehead then appeared quickly at her officially ‘top secret’- in reality well-known by everybody- place and returns with the book in her hands.
‘Once again, I wish you all the best, honey!’, she said and handed over the book, which since then belongs to my favourite cookbooks.
The publisher draws attention on the back cover that ‘this book is not meant to be used as a real cookbook, because its instructions are difficult to follow. Therefore we recommend it to those who find joy in sensing the smells, tastes and atmosphere of the time Magda Szabó lived at.
You know me, and you know well that I like challenges, and this is exactly what I am longing for: old tastes, smells and atmosphere.
Actually, this is what Taste of Memories is all about.
First step for me to bake this cake is picking cherries. Gata, our cat tries to help me and runs up and down on the brunches hunting not for cherries but birds instead.
After I have enough cherries in my wicker basket, I get everything ready in the kitchen.
Already the first steps make me confused: the dough becomes really sticky, although I added a little bit more flour. I used butter right from the fridge, but it did’t seem cold enough and started to melt very quickly in this heat. The recipe doesn’t mention that it should be refrigerated at all but I can see it is not avoidable. ‘Butter and flour are not the same as in the good old times’, my grandmother used to say, and maybe she is completely true.
‘My goodness, I don’t think it will something’ I am thinking sadly, when I put the dough into the freezer for a short time in order to speed up the process a little bit.
Surprisingly, the dough turns out to be rollable but I really have to be careful not to break it.
There is no indication so I decide to roll it out to a rectangular and lay it on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. I try to guess oven temperature and baking time and then sit down in front of the oven to make sure I don’t over-bake it.
Next challenge is the meringue. I admire all the ladies from Magda Szabó’s time who beat the eight egg whites with sugar with hands. My kitchen machine works really hard, but the result is astonishing: shiny and silky meringue, just as it should be.
I place cherries on the pre-baked dough and spread over the meringue, which is so beautiful that I can already smile, relieved. ‘Bake slowly, so the meringue remains white’, writes the recipe so I guess the temperature again and go back to my reserved spot in front of the oven.
The pie is absolutely wonderful, the meringue is crunchy outside and creamy inside. I might reduce the sugar in the meringue next time, but its sweetness definitely makes a good fit with the cherries.
I am sending warm thought to the author and I think I am ready for the next challenge.
Which will be a real, home-made strudel.
Textiles I use for photography are hand-woven and botanical dyed, made by @textil_szakacsniki
Cherry meringue pie
*I have made this pie from leftovers. Every time I bake something that required only egg yolks, I put the egg whites into the freezer so I had all the 8 egg whites needed for the recipe. The vanilla sugar was made using leftover vanilla beans I used for cooking. I dried them and put them into a jar with powdered sugar. The scent will be the more intense the more time you give to it.
based on a recipe from the famous writer Magda Szabó’s family cookbook
120 g very cold butter
120 g confectioner’s sugar/powdered sugar
200 g all-purpose flour
lemon zest of a half lemon
For the topping
500 g cherries (430 g pitted) or sour cherries
8 egg whites
240 g confectioner’s sugar/powdered sugar with vanilla flavour*
30 g blanched, sliced almonds
- Cut butter into smaller pieces or grate it and mix with flour until it forms crumbles. Add sugar, egg, lemon zest and flour. Wrap it into a plastic foil and refrigerate for approximately an hour, until the dough is kneadable.
- Preheat the oven to 200 ºC (190 ºC with fan). Pit cherries.
- Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface to 1 cm thin (I have got a 23×29 cm rectangular) and carefully transfer it to a baking sheet covered with baking paper. Pre-bake for 10 minutes and set it aside. Reduce the heat of the oven to 160 ºC-ra (150 ºC with fan)
- Beat egg whites until it gets white, then gradually add sugar. Beat with a kitchen machine until stiff peaks form and it has a beautiful smooth and shiny texture.
- Spread cherries on the top of the pre-baked dough and using a spatula spread the meringue on top. Sprinkle with the almonds and bake slowly at the low temperature for 30 minutes.