Kersen, or cherries, are grown abundantly in the Netherlands. Old-fashioned varieties with fun and mysterious names such as Mierlose Zwarte, Udense Spaanse, Meikersen, Dikke Loenen, Pater van Mansveld and Morellen (pie cherries) can be found in fruit-rich areas such as Limburg, De Betuwe or the Kromme Rijnstreek, close to Utrecht. During the eighties and nineties, many of the cherry orchards were eradicated because of urban development, but in the last several years, a new movement to bring back some of the old-fashioned varieties is quite successful.
Until the 1970's, the small village of Mierlo in the province of Brabant was THE place for all cherry lovers to travel to during the season. Because of its calcium-rich soil, the Mierlose Zwarte, the black cherry of Mierlo, was a favorite indulgence, popular because of its particular flavor and sweetness. It was also the cherry of choice to bake kersenstruif with, cherry pancakes, a traditional dish during the short cherry season. People would beg, bargain or steal to make sure they obtained a pound or two of the harvest so that they did not have to miss out on this treat!
The Mierlose Zwarte also suffered from the urban sprawl and during these last thirty years, production was minimal. Fortunately, growers like the Van Der Linden family at the Kersenboerderij kept a small part of the orchard with original trees, and are currently very successful in grafting and expanding this heirloom orchard.
The season for Dutch cherries is short, starting around June 1st, and barely making it to mid-July. Cherries are best eaten fresh, and are most often consumed that way by the Dutch. It is therefore not surprising that there are only a few recipes that involve cherries in a different fashion: kersenvlaai (cherry pie), kersenpap (cherry porridge) and today's recipe, kersenstruif. These recipes work best with slightly overripe, dark, sweet cherries. Since we don't have access to the Mierlose Zwarte, the Bing cherry is a usable substitute.
I read somewhere that, traditionally, people left the pits in the cherries for this dish: I am unsure as to how this would contribute to a better flavor, and can only imagine what harm it may cause. Therefore, I highly recommend pitting and halving the cherries before you add them to the pan!
Four cups pitted and halved sweet, dark Bing cherries
1 1/2 cups self-rising flour*
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cup milk
Pinch of salt
Beat the flour, sugar, vanilla, eggs with one cup of milk and the pinch of salt, until you have a silky smooth batter. Stand for ten minutes, covered. If the batter thickens, add a little bit more milk, a tablespoon at a time.
Melt a little bit of butter in your favorite non-stick pan or on your pancake skillet. Distribute half a cup of pitted cherries on the melted, then pour approximately a fourth of a cup of batter over the cherries. Bake at medium heat until the pancake bubbles up and starts to dry on top. Use a large spatula to flip the cherry pancake and continue to bake it on the other side.
Serve with powdered sugar. Makes approximately 8 pancakes.