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Friday, August 9, 2013



The cherry is the fruit of many plants of the genus "Prunus", and is a fleshy "drupe" also known as a stone fruit.   Cherries originated in the Middle East and have been cultivated in Europe and the Orient for centuries.   The geographical range for the sweet cherry extends through most of Europe, western Asia, and parts of northern Africa. Cherries have been consumed in this area since prehistoric times.  Irrigation, spraying, labor , and propensity to damage from rain and hail make cherries relatively expensive.  Cherries are harvested using a mechanized "shaker" or are hand picked to minimize damage to the fruit and trees.

Cherries have a very short growing season but can grow in most temperate latitudes.  Cherry trees require exposure to cold to germinate.  Because of this requirement , none of the "Prunus" family can grow in tropical climates  The peak season for cherries is summer.   There are two main species of cherries, sweet cherries, which include the most varieties and peak in June, and tart (also called "sour") cherries, which are used for cooking and peak in July.

The U. S. is the world's  biggest producer, consumer, and exporter of cherries.  Most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, California, Oregon, Wisconsin, and  Michigan.  Important varieties of sweet cherries include Bing, Brooks, Tulare, King, Sweetheart, and Rainier.   Most tart cherries are grown in Michigan, followed by Utah, New York, and  Washington.   Varieties of  tart cherries include Montmorecy and Morello. 

When I was in college, I had a part time job in a supermarket in the downtown area.   Next door to the supermarket was a large bakery.  At night when I would leave work the smell of the baking would make me hungry.  One night when I got home from work my father had baked a big batch of cherry turnovers.  Well, with my appetite whetted by the smells from the bakery, I really went to town on the cherry turnovers.  So much so that they made me sick.  I ended up with a belly ache.  Well, after that each night when I came out of work to the smells  of the bakery, they reminded me of that belly ache. 

Sweet cherries are rich in beta carotene, vitamin C, anthocyanin, and quercetin which may work together to fight cancer.  Cherry anthocyanin, a class of phytochemical  was shown in preliminary research to possibly affect pain and inflammation mechanisms.   Sweet cherries are also loaded with potassium, which is a natural blood pressure reducer.    Tart cherries contain melatonin which lowers body temperature and helps make us sleepy.    Subjects in a study who were given one ounce of cherry juice concentrate in the morning and then again at night found that they slept more soundly.   Melatonin may also help protect against post workout pain. 

Choose cherries that are shiny and plump with fresh green stems and dark coloring, which are heavy for their size.  Test taste them if you can.  Keep cherries in the refrigerator unwashed with stems attached in a loosely covered container or a loosely closed plastic bag.  Rinse the cherries right before you eat them.   To pit cherries rinse them with cool water,  pat dry,  and remove stems.  Use  a toothpick or unbent paper clip and insert into the stem end of the cherry.  Feel it hit the pit.  Twist your toothpick or paper clip around the pit and pop it out. 

Sweet cherries are delicious eaten out of hand.  Cinnamon and nutmeg are two prime cherry seasonings.  So are almonds and almond flavorings such as extract and almond liqueur.  Cherries are used in recipes and also for pies, cobblers, and tarts.

So.......Eat up!  Enjoy!  I'll show you how.


Simple but good:

Brandied Cherries

1 lb. sweet cherries, pitted
1/2 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsps. lemon juice
1 stick cinnamon
pinch of nutmeg
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup brandy

Wash and pit cherries.   In a saucepan combine all ingredients except cherries and brandy and bring to a rolling boil.  When liquid begins to boil, reduce the heat to medium.  Add cherries and simmer for 5 - 7 minutes.  Remove from heat, add brandy and let cool. Transfer to clean jars and refrigerate uncovered until cherries are cool to the touch.  Cover tightly and refrigerate for up to two weeks.