Basque Country is known for many things, among them meat and fish, but also cherries. That makes sense in that it’s a mountainous region located right at the far-Western edge of where France and Spain meet, where the Pyrénée mountains hit the Bay of Biscay. Basque black cherries thrive all around the area in the cool high-altitude climate, however the most famous come from a town called ltxassou.
As you might expect, these are some rare cherries. And while I don’t know what they taste like I’m told that like American black cherries Basque black cherries are sweet and mellow with lots of deep cherry flavor. ltxassou cherries come in three varieties: peloa, xapata and the rarest of the rare, the beltxa. Though preserves made from these no doubt are what real gâteau Basques are made with, I’d venture that they’re nearly impossible to find outside Basque Country, even in specialty shops.
I’d think it’d be safe to substitute virtually any cherry preserves or compote, sweet or sour. It’s hard for me to imagine going wrong in either case. It may be because I grew up with a sour cherry tree in my back yard, but I’m partial to cherries with some attitude.