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Published July 09, 2009, 12:00 AM

Pick cherries and a pork loin

The cherries are here. Once again I must carefully position the fingers on my right hand, discreetly hiding the cuticles dark with stain and the nails that look as though they’ve been used for raking the dirt in my flower garden.

By: Sue Doeden, The Dickinson Press

The cherries are here. Once again I must carefully position the fingers on my right hand, discreetly hiding the cuticles dark with stain and the nails that look as though they’ve been used for raking the dirt in my flower garden. It happens every year during the cherry season of summer.

There’s nothing like popping a fresh sweet cherry into your mouth, the juice bursting on the tongue as you chew the fruit from the pit. I keep a bowl of cherries on my kitchen island and grab a couple each time I pass. They’re a good source of vitamin C. One cup of fresh cherries has only about 90 calories. It’s best, though, to store cherries in the refrigerator and wash them as you are ready to eat them. If you want to save some cherries for a snowy-day winter treat, wash them and remove the pits, then spread them evenly over a cookie sheet or flat tray and freeze them. When frozen solid, transfer the cherries to a plastic bag. They’ll keep up to a year this way.

I like to buy extra cherries, pull out my cherry pitter (a gadget I inherited from my mom’s kitchen drawer) and start baking away. Cobblers, tarts, cheesecakes and parfaits have been cherry desserts in my house over the years. This year I’ve added a savory selection to my collection of cherry recipes.

Grilled Cherry-Soaked Pork Loin is a summer dish that takes advantage of perfectly ripe and juicy cherries.

Deep, dark, red pitted cherries are simmered in wine with garlic and shallots for the start of a marinade that will give a loin of pork a big boost of flavor.

The addition of tart, acidic red wine vinegar breaks down muscle fibers and tenderizes the meat. The sharpness of the vinegar plays with the sweet cherries to produce a marinade that is a little sweet, a little sour, and very flavorful.

Fresh herbs, garlic and shallots bring aroma that permeates the pork as it bathes in the liquid for hours. You can use a mixture of some of your favorite herbs. I snipped rosemary and thyme from my herb garden. A bit of olive oil in the soaking mixture coats the exterior of the pork, preventing the lean meat from drying out during cooking.

Once the wine and cherry mixture is cooked and reduced, it gets a whirl in the blender to become a puree. You’ll discover that this marinade is thicker than some you have used. It’s supposed to be that way. It will give the pork a delicious caramelized crust as it cooks to succulence on the grill.

These days, pork is very lean. Even though it has been soaking in marinade, if left on the grill too long, it will become dry and tasteless. I like to remove the pork from the heat when the internal temperature at the thickest point reaches somewhere between 150 and 155 degrees. The internal temperature of the meat will continue to rise as it rests, covered with foil, for 10 to 15 minutes before slicing.

Pit some cherries. Soak some pork. Fire up the grill. Enjoy the cherry season of summer. And don’t worry – the stains on your fingers will last for just a couple of days.

Grilled Cherry-Soaked Pork Loin
1 pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted
2 shallots, chopped
3 chubby cloves garlic, chopped
2 cups red wine
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary leaves
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
1 (2 1/2 to 3-pound) boneless, center-cut pork loin
Salt and pepper

First, prepare the soaking solution. Combine cherries, shallots, garlic and red wine in a large saucepan. Over medium-high heat, bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium and simmer until the liquid is reduced to about 1 cup. Add the brown sugar and cook, stirring often, for another 3 minutes. Pour the wine mixture into a food processor or blender and puree. Transfer to a bowl. Whisk in the vinegar, oil and herbs. Allow mixture to cool completely.

Sprinkle all sides of the pork loin with salt and pepper. Place the pork in a large bowl or zip-top plastic bag. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or seal the plastic bag and place it in a bowl in case of leaks. Place in refrigerator and allow the pork to soak for at least 4 hours or up to 12 hours.

Prepare grill for cooking over indirect heat. Oil the grill rack. Preheat the grill. Lift the pork from the soaking mixture and set it on the area of the rack that is over the indirect heat. Cook pork in a closed grill over indirect heat until internal temperature reaches 155 degrees. Transfer the pork loin to a platter. Cover loosely with foil and allow the pork to rest for 10 minutes. Uncover the pork, being careful to save the juices that have collected around the meat. Cut the pork into 1/2-inch-thick slices and arrange on a platter. Drizzle reserved juices over the meat. Makes 8 servings.

Tips from the cook

--A fancy gadget to pit cherries is really not necessary, but it can save time. If you don’t have a cherry pitter, you can make a slit in the cherry from north to south, split it open and use your finger (beware of stained cuticles) or a paring knife to pop out the pit.

--If you’d rather not use wine in the marinade, try substituting with cranberry or pomegranate juice.

--Shallots are smaller than onions and look a bit like large cloves of garlic. They are rich and flavorful, combining the flavors of onion and garlic. Find them in the produce department at the grocery store.

--I know I keep saying this, but really, an instant-read digital meat thermometer is the only way to get perfect results when cooking meat.

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