Hungarian Sour Cherry Soup
My Hungarian-born grandma’s Bronx apartment always smelled of paprika and chicken fat, the scent of which permeated the upholstery and lingered in the air. Even in the heat of summer, Grandma Rose cooked Hungarian foods that were unapologetically hearty, like stuffed cabbage, and chicken paprikas with nockedli. One perennial summer favorite broke the pattern, though: meggyleves, cold sour cherry soup. Of all the foods I was ever served by my Grandma Rose, it was my hands-down favorite.
As a kid, I always looked forward to the summer meals that would include cherry soup as a first course. The beautiful, deep-pink soup is studded with morello sour cherries and thickened with sour cream. Not only did it seem like a dessert disguised as an appetizer, but my grandma made a game out of eating it: for every pit that my brother and I found in our bowls, she'd reward us with a shiny dime.
Hungarians have long prized the dark red, intensely flavored morello for meggyleves and for traditional strudels, tortes, and preserves. It's so distinctly different from sweet cherries, which are called cseresznye in Hungarian, that it goes by an entirely different name: meggy. Perhaps it’s the Hungarian blood in my veins--I prefer the tart flavor of sour-cherries, unless I’m eating fresh cherries just as they are.
About eight years ago, my grandma’s recipe for sour cherry soup ran (along with a version of the story above) in an issue of Saveur. Classic as that recipe remains, I don’t believe it requires an update. That being said, these days sweet, cold fruit soups are an unusual start to a meal, more of a novelty than a summer staple. So I began to consider how I could transform cherry soup into something more relevant, something that eaters of today could enjoy more frequently than once or twice a year. And right on schedule, a hot, sticky, summer’s day descended on New York City, inspiring me to reinterpret my grandma’s cherry soup as a popsicle, the perfect frosty antidote to the oppressive summer sun.
After tweaking the amounts of ingredients, I finally came up with the proportions required for a pretty delicious popsicle. Now a dessert rather than a first course, the recipe includes more sugar than it would for the soup, but the flavors of sweet-tart cherry, silky sour cream, and just the tiniest hint of cinnamon stay true to Grandma Rose’s original.
HUNGARIAN SOUR CHERRY POPSICLES
Makes 8 Popsicles
1 24 oz. jar pitted morello cherries (juice drained and reserved)
½ lemon (zested and juiced)
½ cup reserved cherry juice
1 small cinnamon stick
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 and ½ cups sour cream
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspooons vodka
1 small pinch salt