In late winter, when my husband and I start to plan our annual trip back to his homeland of Hungary, I think of the table we always set under the pear tree, fashioned on the fly one year from the generous woodpile by the barn. It’s laid with homemade caraway-and-poppy speckled breads, butter from the Bakony, Trappist cheeses and heady paprika-laced sausage. My eye travels down the table in my mind and there I see them, clear as day, heaps of plump, glimmering sour cherries, or meggy, pyramiding inside our favorite white bowls. And it’s decided. We will go in July. Sour cherry season.
It’s not that I’ve always been crazy about sour cherries. But on this trip, more than any other, I couldn’t get enough. In July, in Hungary, for a few fleeting weeks, sour cherries are everywhere. Except when they are not. Like much of central Europe, Hungary had a late frost. One of those frosts that nips all the cherries in the bud, quite literally, leaving whole fields and farms void of the fruit come summer.
And so here we all are, left only to love and embrace, as I learned to (with no regret!) sour cherries in a jar. To my surprise, I found them still singing of their notorious tang. On our simple, quiet mornings in Hungary, when we have leftover bread, often laced with whole grains, sesame and poppy, we slice it thick, sop it up in the milk of the Bakony cows mixed with fresh eggs from our hens. We bake it on cast iron, serve it with spoonfuls of the creamy local yogurt, bathed in sour cherries and their juices. And when we miss Hungary, as we almost certainly do from time to time for the rest of the year, far, far beyond sour cherry season, this is what we’ll make.
fresh, jarred or frozen, plus their juices
Whisk together the eggs, milk, sugar, vanilla, cinnamon and salt until well combined and pour into a shallow dish. Heat the oven to 325°F. Meanwhile, preheat a non-stick griddle or cast iron pan over medium-low heat (or 300 degrees on an electric griddle). Brush lightly with butter and heat until shimmering. Dip each piece of bread into the milk mixture and let is soak in the mixture about 45 seconds. Flip and repeat until the bread has thoroughly soaked the milk mixture. Remove with a slotted spatula to let additional mixture drip off.
Place the bread on the hot griddle and cook until golden brown, about 3 minutes. Flip and bake until golden, about 2 minutes more. Transfer to the oven and cook until tender and custardy on the inside, about 5 minutes more. Butter the hot French toast and serve dolloped with yogurt. Spoon the sour cherries and juices over the top. Dust generously with powdered sugar and serve warm.
You can find jarred sour cherries at various places online, but Sarah reccommends Otto’s,which, FYI SoCal people, is in Burbank so you can visit in person!
Food photography and styling by Sarah Copeland