In Season: Cherries

by in In Season, June 23, 2009

Cherries Jubilee
With more than 900 (yes 900!) cherry varieties available around the world, there is no excuse not to dig into these sweet little morsels now that they’re coming into season.

The Basics
Did you know that cherries are a member of the rose family? Yep. So are plums, peaches, apricots and even almonds. They’re also called “stone fruits,” which is a classification for fruits whose flesh and skin grow around a hard pit.

And you read right — there are more than 900 varieties of cherries in the world. They all differ in color, flavor and sweetness. Bing cherries, which have a dark red color and sweet flavor, are the ones you’ll most often find at the supermarket. But not all cherries are red. Rainier cherries are yellow with a pink blush; some late-harvest varieties even have dark black skins. Morello cherries, another common variety, have bright red skins and a tartly sour taste that makes them fabulous for baking and preserving for cherry jam.

Both sweet and tart cherries also come dried, a great option for trail mix, cookies, oatmeal and cherry sauces. You can even drink your cherries; scour your juice aisle for 100% cherry juice. Sometimes the flavor is a bit overpowering so add a splash to a glass of still water or seltzer.

Better still, these little berries can be a true local favorite. About 95% of the cherries that we eat here in the U.S. come from Michigan, Wisconsin, Utah, Washington, Oregon, Pennsylvania and New York.

Nutrition Facts
One cup of fresh cherries has about 85 calories, 3 grams of fiber and just over 15% of your daily vitamin C needs. Sour cherries are slightly higher in vitamin C and also contain a healthy dose of vitamin A. Cherries are also high in two inflammation-fighting antioxidants: anthocyanin and quercitin.

What to Do with Cherries
Cherries don’t need fancy treatment to be delicious. I love to just snack on them plain throughout the season. For a cool summer treat, I make cherry-vanilla milkshakes with fresh cherries, skim milk and low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt.

Try fresh or dried cherries in simple desserts — like the classic Cherries Jubilee — but they also add sweetness and depth to savory sauces for chicken or pork.

And, of course, when a recipe includes fresh cherries, don’t forget to ditch the pits. When you need to prep bunch of cherries, a cherry pitter might be a helpful tool (they work well for olives, too).

Shopping Tip: Choose cherries that are brightly colored and firm (pass on the shriveled ones). Store them in the refrigerator, and wash them just before using. They should keep for about a week, but be sure to eat them fast and pitch them once they start to shrivel, get mushy or develop brown spots (all signs of spoilage).

TELL US: What’s your favorite way to enjoy cherries?

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