Within the confines of France and Spain, there is a magical region where the two countries bleed into one. It’s like a venn diagram of deliciousness. Most people call this place Catalonia. I call it Sprance.
If you’re on the Spanish side, local graffiti will tell you “Catalonia is not Spain.” And if you’re on the French side, don’t expect the residents to want to parlez vous. They won’t. They have got their own language and pronounce Xs as CHs probably just because it sounds cooler.
Sprance is a spicy pocket of the world where pork and small salty fish dominate on the dinner table and Cathar blood is still visible on ancient citadel walls. It’s a place where even babies drink Banyuls and residents are blessed with a minimum of 300 sunny days a year.
The light in the Pyrénées-Orientales is so beautiful, that artists have always flocked there to paint the dusty hillside and the sparkling sea. Picasso, Soutine, and Chagall all called the tiny medieval market town of Céret their home. Matisse and Modigliani visited. Sure the light is beautiful, but I think the real reason they settled there was because of the food.
Céret is a major fruit producer and it’s famous for its cherries. Traditionally, every season’s first pick are sent to Le Président. May marks the end of this stone fruit’s harvest and in my opinion this is when Céret is at its most picturesque. That’s why my family will be staying there in two weeks time.
And so I’m culling my cherry recipes now. My favorite being Cherries Jubilee which Auguste Escoffier used to prepare for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee celebrations. It’s also a bit of a summer classic in the American South and it reminds me of the Carolina pulled pork barbecues my parents used to host for the 4th of July. All of which were topped off with Grandma’s chocolate cupcakes and Cherries Jubilee.
So if you need me in the next few weeks, you know where you can find me. In Céret, listening to Charles Trenet under the shade of a 250 year old Corsican pine, enjoying my Cherries Jubilee while Kitty runs around the orchard and my husband sips Bandol rosé in the pool.
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 pound fresh pitted cherries
1/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon finely grated orange zest
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup Kirschwasser
vanilla bean ice cream
a long reach match or kitchen torch
Melt the butter over medium heat in a large skillet. Add the sugar, cherries, orange zest, and cinnamon. Constantly stir. Cook until the cherries are tender and the sugar dissolves. About 5 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat. Add the kirsch and carefully ignite. Cook until the flame is extinguished. Then spoon the mixture and serve warm over ice cream.
**A Cherries Jubilee related story: It was at the premiere party of “The Divine Secrets of The Ya-Ya Sisterhood” that I was all dolled up and eating this dessert listening to a live performance of Taj Mahal when Cuba Gooding Jr. approached me, shook my hand, congratulated me on my good work in the film and told me my parents must be so proud. I wasn’t in that movie, but as my mouth was full of cherries and vanilla ice cream, I didn’t have the chance to correct him. I just let him think I was one of the younger Ya-Yas. Who could it hurt?