It’s cherry season in the Great Lakes State!
You might not expect a place plunged into a deep freeze almost half the year to be the bearer of such cheerful, bright red fruits. But Lake Michigan, warming the air in winter and cooling it in summer, provides just the right climate for producing luscious fruits of all kinds.
Cherries are no exception. Almost 75 percent of all the tart cherries in the US are grown here, most along the Leelanau Peninsula, the pinky finger of the Lower Peninsula’s “Mitten.”
Cherries are such a big deal that over 300,000 people travel to Traverse City in Northern Michigan every July to attend the National Cherry Festival. An air show, parades, craft fair, national music acts and, of course, lots and lots of cherry confections take over the lakeside city for an entire week.
If you missed the cherry festival, it’s not too late to enjoy Michigan Cherries. They’re in season throughout the month of July. Just visit a farmer’s market or grocery store that sells locally grown produce, and you’re sure to find a fresh supply. If you hurry, there’s even still time to find a U-pick cherry orchard.
There are lots of things to do with cherries. Pies, tarts and cobbler always come to mind. I thought I’d try something different and make this Cherry Baked French Toast. Most of it is made the night before, then you just pop it in the oven to bake while the coffee brews, and you take a shower. It was perfect for breakfast Sunday morning before church.
Cherry Baked French Toast Recipe
12 slices of day-old bread
2 cups of fresh cherries, pitted
8 large eggs
2 1/4 cups of milk
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/3 cup of maple syrup or honey
1 cup of water
1 cup of sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
1 tbs butter
Cut bread into one inch cubes. Spread half the bread in a greased 9×13 pan. Cover bread with 1 cup of cherries. Cover cherries with remaining bread. Beat together eggs, milk, cinnamon, syrup or honey and vanilla. Pour over bread. Refrigerate overnight.
The next morning preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes.
Cherry Syrup Topping
Prepare the topping while the french toast bakes. Place the remaining 1 cup of cherries in a heavy saucepan with 1 the sugar and water. Stir in the cornstarch. Bring to a boil, then simmer 10 minutes or until thick. Take the syrup off the stove and stir in the butter. Pour over the baked french toast after removing from the oven and serve.