What's In Season: Sweet Cherries
The smallest stone fruit. A luxurious and sweet summer treat.
Sources: Field Guide to Produce by Aliza Green; On Food and Cooking by Harold McGee; California Cherry Advisory Board; Washington State Fruit Commission
The first cherries that arrive in our produce markets are sweet, red Bing cherries, soon followed by the sweet white cherries called Raniers. Sour cherries, which are scarce to find in our markets but do make an appearance for about a month in our Greenmarkets, arrive later in the summer, often not until July. Sour cherries are perfect for making pies and other cherry cooked desserts while sweet cherries are best for eating raw. The cherries we buy in New York come mostly from the Pacific Northwest and California. They're harvested when they're ripe meaning unlike many other types of fruit, they don't get any better from that point on. Being picked ripe also means they're fragile, which contributes to their cost.
White cherries nearly always cost more than red ones but it doesn't mean they taste better. They usually have a more subtle flavor and can be more sweet, but not necessarily so. As I say below, taste first, then buy.
Like most fruit that have a rich, deep color, cherries are full of nutrients, including anti-oxidants, potassium, vitamins C and B complex, and other good things that are said to fight both heart disease and cancer and help with bone health. There are about 90 calories in a cup of fresh cherries (about 21 pieces).
How to Buy Cherries
- Look for shiny skins and stems still attached.
- Select each cherry and feel for ones that are firm and not mushy.
- Avoid any with brown spots.
- Taste before you buy. Your produce seller should know that the only way to know the condition and taste of a cherry is to taste it first. So try one and then buy.
- Cherries are highly perishable so refrigerate and eat or cook with them soon.
How to Cook with Cherries
While cherries may be best enjoyed just fresh and raw, the taste of cooked cherries (that haven't come out of a can with an artificially red color) can be one of summer's greatest treats.
The challenge, of course, is removing the pits. While gadgets and devices are sold to separate pits from their cherries, sometimes the easiest method is to use a plastic drinking straw. Just gently push the end of the straw into and through the cherry and the pit will pop right out. One plastic straw will last about as long as it takes to pit a quart of cherries. Pitting cherries is a labor-intensive process, regardless which tool you use, but the payoff at the end is usually worth it.
Here are some ideas for cooking with fresh summer sweet cherries:
- Make a cherry compote to spoon over vanilla ice cream or cheesecake.
- Cut the pitted cherries into small pieces and add to a favorite chocolate chip cookie recipe.
- Make a classic dessert like cherry pie or cherry clafoutis, a French baked custard and cherry combination.
- Combine cherries with savory and spicy ingredients to make a chutney to serve with roast pork.
- Bake cherry and chocolate biscotti to have as dessert on a summer night with a glass of chilled vin santo.
- Combine cherries with spicy flavors and tomato paste to make a robust sauce for glazing duck breasts.
- Pull out your ice cream maker to turn sweet cherries into sweet cherry sorbet.
- Make a sauce of sliced fresh cherries, balsamic vinegar and shallots to serve with pan grilled turkey cutlets. Bon Appétit has a recipe for this tasty summer dinner. See our link.
- Bake a cherry pie with sour cherries, adding only sugar, tapioca (to help hold the juices), and a teaspoon or so of fresh lemon juice.
Maraschino cherries originated in northern Italy and were popular as locally grown marasca cherries preserved in almond flavored liqueur. Today there's little evidence of what had once been a regional delicacy. Instead they are industrialized cherries that get bleached with sulfur dioxide, stored in brine, flavored with almond extract, and then sweetened and dyed a bright red color. Aside from a decoration for a "Shirley Temple," they have no reason to still exist.