the old chokecherry tree (and raw apricot cheesecake)
An almost imperceptible shift in the light. A slant of golden, the earth’s turning reflected in sunflowers’ faces. The skies blue again after a good night’s wind and rain scrubbed the smoky haze that had descended over the mountains, stacking them like so many cardboard cutouts. Around the edges the air is cool, threaded with the promise of chill. The creek meanders along, more leisurely than lazy, having left the frenetic pace of runoff behind. A grasshopper symphony plays from grassy fields, blanched seed heads bowing in the breeze. Walking along the path I see these musicians leap, a striking resemblance to butterflies in flight, all yellow laced wings and suspended animation.
Chokecherries ripen along the creek corridor. One old tree at a prominent crossroads always produces a good crop, which I never touch for want of leaving them for the wildlife that needs them far more than I. My tendency is not universal, and I noticed yesterday that it had been stripped of the vast majority. I reckon it’s the same gatherer I met some years ago as he tromped along this path, plastic gallon milk jugs fashioned into berry buckets strapped to either side of his belt; rubber boots and suspenders and a keen focus to get those chokecherries before anyone (or anything) else did.
The first five years I lived in here, I would wake one fall morning to find a large pile of chokecherry-studded bear scat at the end of my driveway. Just one pile, once each year. I imagined a wizened, wise bear making his rounds, meandering along the creekside trail, stopping by that old chokecherry tree and eating his fill. Walking along, pausing briefly at my driveway before making his way through the adjacent field and upcountry.
Last year there was no scat pile, and I don’t expect one this year either. The field has been plowed under and converted into high density housing at a dizzying pace. “Progress,” they say. The bear, I would guess, is steering clear of this progress, the concrete and excavators and diesel fumes. I hope he comes back to visit the chokecherry tree, at least. There are still a few fruits to be had.
Before totally turning away from the fruits of summertime, and since stone fruit is still abundant at market, I want to share (as promised on Instagram) this recipe for Apricot Vanilla Raw “Cheesecake” with a Maple Pecan Crust. While I used apricots, peaches or nectarines would work equally well (as would, I expect, blackberries or blueberries). Please let me know what you think if you give this recipe a try. I hope you enjoy it!
Apricot Vanilla Raw “Cheesecake” with a Maple Pecan Crust
1 1/2 C (105 g) raw, unsalted pecans
1/2 C (70 g) almond flour
1 C (200 g) packed medjool dates (about 12 dates)
5 T (45 g) hemp seeds
1 t vanilla powder
1/4 t salt
1/4 C coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
2 T maple syrup
3 C (400 g) raw cashews, soaked overnight
1/2 C coconut oil, melted and cooled slightly
1/2 C maple syrup
one 5.4 oz can (160 mL) coconut cream
juice of one lemon
3 apricots, halved and pitted
6 apricots, pitted, halved and sliced thinly
Mint, for garnish (opt.)
The night before:
The night before you wish to make the cheesecake, soak the raw cashews in a bowl of cool water. To soak: cover the cashews with a couple of inches of clean water in a large bowl, cover lightly, and refrigerate.
The next morning, cover the base of a 7″ springform pan with parchment paper and attach the side piece.
To make the crust, place the pecans in a food processor and pulse until they resemble a coarse meal.
Add the remaining crust ingredients to the pecan meal in the food processor bowl and process until the ingredients are well blended.
Pour the pecan crust onto the parchment-lined springform pan and press down firmly until the crust forms relatively uniform layer.
Place the crust in the freezer while you prepare the filling.
Wipe out the food processor bowl.
Drain the cashews in a colander and rinse well with clean water.
Place all of the filling ingredients *except* the apricots into the food processor bowl.
Blend until a smooth consistency is achieved (you want to process long enough so that the filling is not gritty).
Remove the springform pan from the freezer and pour about 1/2 inch of the filling onto the crust.
Place the 3 halved apricots, cut side down, into the filling. Wiggle them around a little so that the space where the the pit used to be fills with filling.
Pour the remainder of the filling into the pan, cover lightly, and place in the freezer for at least 4 hours.
Place the cheesecake into the refrigerator about an hour before you want to serve it so that it can thaw. Release the clamp from the side of the springform pan. It won’t release right away, so don’t worry! It will slowly pull away from the sides of the cheesecake while it’s in the fridge.
Just before serving, wash, halve, and pit the other 6 apricots. Place them cut side down on a cutting board and slice them thinly.
Starting from the outside and working in, arrange the apricot slices so that they are slightly overlapping in concentric circles. Garnish with mint if desired.
To cut raw cheesecakes, I find it easiest to use a hot, dry knife. Simply run the knife under hot water and dry it, then use immediately.
Slice any uneaten cake into individual serving sized pieces and freeze them in a freezer-safe container. Thaw for 30-60 minutes before eating.