Queenie Cooks: Super Quick Cherry Crunch

SUPER-QUICK CHERRY CRUNCH

By Terry Harris

This week, Queenie is cooking another all-time favorite, and it’s perfect for the window of time  between Thanksgiving and Christmas when any actual cooking we find (or make) time to do is most likely spent on festive gifts or cookies.  And while there may not be time (or extra energy!) for baking anything elaborate for meals at home, we all still have to eat, and we’re still going to want something special to round off our meals, right?  

Enter, my Super Quick Cherry Crunch!  It's quickly put together from a few common ingredients, it's extremely simple to make, and you literally can go from craving to raving in just minutes with this crunchy sweet/tart dessert.

Anyone who reads my columns regularly knows that I love picking and freezing and, ok, devouring the tart cherries that, on good years, you can sometimes find growing in the area.  And you can certainly use those for this if you have some stashed in the freezer.  But you know what?  I save those for an occasional cherry pie – I do not like ready-made pie fillings – and for this Cherry Crunch, I always stock at least a can or two of canned tart cherries packed in water (that’s important) because they make it a breeze to prepare very quickly, and the result is no-fail scrumptious every single time!

I actually found this perfect quick dessert recipe many years ago in an earlier version of The Joy of Cooking. It’s pretty much memorized now, and, of course, I occasionally play with it a bit – adding some chocolate chips for a chocolate cherry crunch, for example. But mostly I make it very nearly just as it appeared in that ‘70s seldom-used but never forgotten edition.

And it really is my go-to recipe any time I need something special in a hurry. Because besides being truly delicious, with only a can of tart cherries and a few common baking ingredients like flour and sugar I can go from craving to consuming a wonderful Quick Cherry Crunch in about 35 minutes. After today, so can you!

First, the most important thing to remember is that you do NOT want to use cherry pie filling. Nope.  Just look for plain “Tart Cherries in water.” In fact, if you keep a can of those, some brown sugar, oatmeal, flour, and baking powder on hand, you’re always good to go. 

I have to confess that as I dragged out my long-neglected “old copy” (I think I have three versions now) of The Joy for old times’ sake to flip to page 662, I had forgotten that that page is so spattered with cherry juice from long and frequent use that it’s a good thing that I do have it memorized. Happy thoughts just flooded my mind of times when I’ve shared this with family and special friends through the years. 

As for substitutions through the years, I do like to use the dried tapioca soaked in the cherry juice/water combination in the can, but you can stir a little flour into it instead in a pinch, as I know lots of people just don’t keep tapioca around anymore. The result won’t be quite as crunchy, but it does shorten the preparation time even more since you don’t have to wait for the initial tapioca-soaking step.  It’s still every bit as tasty, and I whether you use the tapioca or flower for the thickening, I promise you won’t believe how heavenly the house will smell as your Cherry Crunch cooks! 

For preparation, you just basically mix together melted butter with the dry ingredients, spread half that mixture on the bottom of a buttered pan, cover that with the treated cherries (whether you use the tapioca with the juice or the flour, sprinkle the rest of the butter/dry in ingredient-mixture on top, and bake.  It really is that easy!

The result is delicious hot or cold, plain or with whipped cream or vanilla ice cream. I’ve also tried it with chocolate chips sprinkled between the cherry and topping layer, and I can’t deny that with the gooey, melty, semi-sweet chocolate deliciousness it is pretty incredible.  But honestly, the tart sweetness of this Quick Cherry Crunch right by itself is pretty hard to beat.

This really is the best recipe I know for a simple cherry dessert – or most any dessert, for that matter. Plus during this time when some of us are still reeling from the sweetness of the Candied Yams and Pecan Pie and the rest at Thanksgiving, the refreshing tartness of this Quick Cherry Crunch is just about perfect.  Add a bit of vanilla ice cream while it’s still warm and don’t be surprised if you find yourself regretting that you did not make a double batch!  (And it does work just fine doubled, by the way!) 

And if you need an additional reason to go for it, you can enjoy feeling virtuous as you cook with tart cherries as they contain natural antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents and supposedly can be effective in anything from cancer prevention to heart health to the alleviation of arthritis pain and asthma. Hmmmm.  Wondering now if I could legitimately claim one of my favorite desserts as health food? They ARE Montmorency Cherries, which were introduced to the US from France in the 1800s, so perhaps I could even call it French cooking?  (Don’t judge!) 

Nah, I think I’ll just stick with knowing that this Cherry Crunch is just a real “homey” tasting comfort food that, whether consumed embellished or as-is, is just – I’m not afraid to say it - phenomenal!!!

So there you have it.  And besides being perfect for this time of year, it’s so easy to introduce the unforgettable tart cherry taste treat into any meal or event year-round.  Just do what I do; always keep a couple of cans of pitted sour cherries packed in water in the cabinet up where the oatmeal and flour and sugar reside and you’re good to go! Enjoy!

Super Quick Cherry Crunch

Butter a nine inch square baking dish. Preheat oven to 350.

Mix and let stand 15 minutes:

       1 (14.5 oz) can tart cherries packed in water – NOT cherry pie filling. 

       1 1/2 tablespoons quick tapioca* or all-purpose flour

Melt 1/2 Cup butter.

Mix in:

       1 to 1 1/2 Cups brown sugar (depending on desired sweetness)

       1 cup all-purpose flour

       1 cup uncooked Old-Fashioned oatmeal

       1/4 teaspoon each - baking powder, salt, and baking soda

Place: half the flour mixture in bottom of buttered dish. Scatter cherries and juice mixture over it. Cover fruit with the other half of flour/oatmeal mixture. Bake 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown.

Serve hot or cold, plain or with ice cream. If using tapioca, let it sit in ½ cup of the cherry juice for 15 minutes while you prepare the rest.

OPTIONAL: May sprinkle chocolate chips in with cherries before baking and/or top with ice cream or whipped cream to serve.