This summertime favorite is hard to pass up when you see them at the store or the farmers market because their growing season is so short. A cherry (or many) is a delicious treat that is great eaten raw or used in recipes.
This fruit is in the plant genus Prunus and considered a flesh drupe or stone fruit. Peaches, apricots, plums, and more fall into the same category. Their domestication as a food source predates written history.
They grow in bunches on the tree and were thought to have originated in Turkey near the Black and Caspian Seas. Turkey remains the largest producer of cherries, but they are grown all over the world.
Cherries come in sweet and sour varieties which are great for different uses. Sweet cherries are perfect for snacking, sauces, baking, and more. They have a thick skin and tender flesh and pack a sweet bite.
Thin-skinned and tart, the sour variety is the exception to the rule. Most people do not want to keep popping them in their mouths as they cause quite the pucker. That said, their acidic punch is great for things like jams, cakes, pies, cocktails, ice cream, and every so often, the savory dish.
(I once had a hanger steak at a restaurant in NYC with a cherry sauce that was mind-blowing.)
Sours have an equally short season like the sweet variety do, and because they are super perishable, you are likely only going to find the fresh ones at your farmers market.
There are 1,200 varieties of cherry in the world, but here are a few of the sweet varieties you might run into at the store or farmers market:
Rainier or Royal Ann – the yellow and pink ones with a mild sweetness and just a bit of tart
Bing – the deep red heart-shaped variety
Chelan – dark mahogany in color with an equally deep sweetness
Tulare – dark red in color, these have a sweet bite and a tangy aftertaste
Lambert – known for their bright red color and for holding their shape and texture when baking
Lapins – Similar to Bings and have a season after the Bing cherries have passed to keep the cherry party going
When shopping for them, the general rule is the more vibrant and deeper the color, the richer the flavor. You also want to make sure most of the ones you are buying have their stems. These will last longer than those without their stems. Storing them in the fridge will also help this.
If you buy too many and decide you want to freeze some for later use, it couldn’t be easier.
To do this, you can leave them whole with the stems intact or pit and stem them. Spread the cherries in a single layer on a sheet tray and freeze them until firm. This will prevent them from freezing as a clump of cherry. Transfer them to a plastic bag or alternative storage container.
Cherries come in many other delectable forms:
Here are some delicious recipes using the humble cherry:
Fresh cherries might be small, but they are packed with nutrients. One cup of cherries will give you lots of fiber, vitamin C, potassium, copper, and manganese. They also have vitamin B and vitamin K.
Why are cherries so expensive?
Great question! Because the cherry growing season is so short (3-4 months of the year), it creates a high demand for the fruit. Another factor is that yield can change as the trees that grow this delicious treat don’t always produce the same amount. Couple those things with the geographic limitations of where they are grown and can be grown, and you have a product that can vary in price.
If the price tag is too steep, but you still want to eat a lot of cherries, start looking to purchase them around the 4th of July when the harvest begins to slow.
Can you eat too many cherries?
There is concern that cherries contain cyanide and that is partially true. There are cyanogenic compounds (read: can turn into cyanide) in the pits, you would need to crush and consume them in order to ingest it. Rule of thumb here, don’t eat the pits and you are fine.
In terms of a digestion standpoint, yes. Some people experience gastrointestinal distress from eating a lot of cherries. This is related to two things: the fact that they contain sugar alcohols like the ones found in chewing gum and the fact that they are a source of salicylates which some people are sensitive to.
If you find you fall into the upset tummy category, but can’t give cherries up, try mixing them with other fruits or other foods like a smoothie which should help offset things.
What do I do with cherries?
Cherries are a surprisingly versatile little fruit in all their forms. A poke cake, a Black Forest Cake, a pie, a galette, and a Danish, are all great made with fresh or frozen cherries. Add dried cherries to your granola and you will never be the same.
Fresh, frozen, macerated, or marinated, they can be used in sauces for rich meats like steak and ham. Their sweetness and tart nature pair perfectly with each unctuous bite.
As a garnish, they are great a tropical pina colada or submerged in an ice-cold Manhattan. The jam is amazing spread on a piece of toast and some folks like the maraschino variety or pickled cherries on top of their ice cream.