As summer really heats up, we look to sweet, succulent fruits to help us keep our cool. Cherries are the perfect summer treat (gee…do you think that’s why nature gives them to us?)…with their juicy flesh and rich mineral content…and they are oh, so yummy.
It is difficult to establish the country of origin of cherries, since they are cultivated in so many regions of the world…and since birds are so fond of cherries, it is believed that they carried seeds which cultivated into trees all over the world.
The cherry tree belongs the family that includes the plum, apricot, apple and peach…yum! While cherry trees can grow to 65 feet, they are usually kept pruned to more conservative heights for ease of harvesting.
There are three main varieties of cherries…sweet, sour and wild. Sweet cherries are fleshy and sweet, usually with dark flesh, but sometimes they are yellow. Round, oblong or heart shaped, sweet cherries have thin skin and come in over 500 varieties. The Bing cherry, the most common variety in North America is very juicy, while the heart-shaped ‘bigaroon’ cherry is most adored in Europe. Sour cherries are usually dark and grow very well under harsher conditions. Sour cherries are most often eaten cooked, as this gentles their tart flavor. Wild cherries are small and almost black in color and are not as fleshy as other varieties. Their high astringency literally makes your mouth pucker and are mostly produced in Pennsylvania and Virginia.
So how do we know a good cherry??? Cherries must be picked when ripe, as they will not ripen once they are harvested. Choose brightly colored, glossy fruits that are plump and firm…the stems should not be dried out. Avoid unripe cherries, which are usually pale and hard. Also avoid over-ripe cherries, which are soft, with brownish spots and bruises or wrinkled skin.
Cherries can be left at room temperature, but will stay fresh longer if kept refrigerated. They should be stored away from strong-smelling foods, as cherries will take on odors and deteriorate more quickly. They keep best when stored in plastic bags, which also prevents drying out.
Cherries are a great source of potassium, in addition to providing fiber and vitamin A. In folk medicine, sour cherries are used a diuretic, anti-arthritic, remineralizer and mild laxative.
Cherries are delicious eaten raw, but also love to be cooked, dried, preserved in syrup or marinated in alcohol. They make delicious cakes, muffins and compotes, so get out those pitters and go for it.
Here is my favorite summer cherry recipe…