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Cherries

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Compact, juicy, and colorful, cherries are nicely supplied with nutrients, notably pectin (a soluble fiber that helps control blood cholesterol levels), vitamin C, and beta-carotene, with some potassium. (Sour cherries, which are sometimes called "pie cherries," have considerably more vitamin C than sweet cherries do, though much of it is lost when the cherries are cooked.)

Cherries are also high in a number of phytochemicals, including: anthocyanins (pigments responsible for the red and blue colors of fruits and vegetables), which may have anticancer properties based on their antioxidant activities that defend cells against harmful carcinogens); and quercetin, a so-called flavonoid, which is an antioxidant and may have both anticancer potential as well as anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic properties. It is this anti-inflammatory activity that has made cherries (specifically cherry juice) of interest to people who suffer from gout.

There's even a possible dental health bonus in that studies have shown that a substance (not yet identified) in cherry juice may help prevent tooth decay.

Although some people find the cherry pit an annoying feature, their only other shortcoming is their brief season, which lasts less than 3 months. But during that time, they are in abundant supply. Cherries are grown successfully in commercial quantities in only 20 countries, and the U.S. is one of the leading producers. Seventy percent of the cherries produced in the U.S. come from four states: Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Utah.

Varieties

There are two basic categories of cherry: sweet and sour. Sweet cherries are further differentiated by color: dark- and light-skinned cherries. Of the dark-skinned cherries, Bing is far and away the commonest, but other red- or dark-skinned varieties include the Van, Chapman, Larian, and Black Republican.

Bing: There are many commercial varieties of sweet cherries, but the leader is the Bing, a large, round, extra-sweet cherry with purple-red flesh and a deep red skin that verges on black when fully ripe.

Lambert: The second most popular variety is the Lambert, a smaller, heart-shaped red cherry similar in taste and texture to the Bing.

Rainier: The Rainier, a sweet cherry with yellow or pinkish skin, is grown in limited quantities and is milder and sweeter than the Bing.

Royal Ann: Another light-skinned variety, the Royal Ann is often canned or made into maraschino cherries.

Sour cherries: Most commercially grown sour varieties--such as Montmorency, the best known--are canned or frozen for use as pie fillings or sauces, although you can occasionally find fresh sour cherries during the summer months at farmers' markets and roadside stands. Sour cherries are smaller than sweet cherries and are a bright scarlet.

Availability

Bing cherries are usually available from the end of May through early August, with their peak in June and July. Lamberts, Vans, and other Bing look-alikes appear in markets until mid-August. Keep in mind that the varieties appearing earliest and latest in the season are softer and less sweet than Bings. Any fresh cherries sold after August probably come from cold storage. Small quantities of sweet cherries are imported from New Zealand during the winter months.

Shopping

Buy cherries that have been kept cool and moist, as flavor and texture both suffer at warm temperatures. Take just a few cherries at a time in your hand and select only the best. If circumstances allow, taste one. Good cherries should be large (an inch or more in diameter), glossy, plump, hard, and dark colored for their variety (good Bing cherries, for example, range from a purplish-mahogany color to nearly black). Reject undersized fruits or those that are soft or flabby.

Check carefully for bruises or cuts on the dark surface, and toss back cherries that are sticky through juice leakage. If you find many damaged fruits, consider shopping elsewhere, as a number of spoiled cherries in a bin will start the others on the road to decay.

The stems should be fresh and green; avoid cherries without stems, as the resulting skin break presents an opportunity for decay to begin. Darkened stems are a sign of either old age or poor storage conditions.

Sour cherries sold fresh should be plump, firm, and a bright scarlet color.

Storage

Loosely pack (to minimize bruising) unwashed cherries in plastic bags, or pour them into a shallow pan in a single layer and cover with plastic wrap. Store them in the refrigerator. Fresh cherries in good condition should keep for up to a week, but check them occasionally and remove any that have begun to go bad.

You can extend the cherry season by freezing them. Rinse and drain the cherries thoroughly, then spread them out in a single layer on a cookie sheet and freeze. Once frozen, transfer the cherries to a heavy plastic bag. They'll keep for up to 1 year. When freezing fruits, vegetables or any other food, it's a good idea to label and date the bag, that way you'll know what you have on hand and how long you've had it.

Preparation

When serving fresh cherries, simply rinse them under cold water and drain; they're most attractive with the stems intact. To pit cherries for cooking, halve them with a paring knife and pry out the pit with the tip of the knife, or use an inexpensive cherry pitter (found in any kitchenware shop), which works like a hole punch. A partially unbent paper clip (or an old-fashioned V-shaped hairpin, if you can find one) will also do the job.

If cooked for just a few minutes, sweet cherries retain their firm texture, and their flavor develops a depth and richness. Try poaching them--this gentle cooking method preserves their texture. Stem and pit the cherries, then drop them into a small amount of simmering water or a combination of water and wine (about 1 cup of liquid per 2 cups of cherries) and cook until the fruit is slightly softened and heated through--about 1 to 3 minutes. If you like, you can season the simmering water with a cinnamon stick, a little ground allspice, or even a hint of pepper.

Cherries can also be sauteed in a small amount of butter and sugar and served in crepes, atop pancakes or waffles or over frozen yogurt.

Sour cherries are particularly good in pies. Toss pitted cherries with sugar and cornstarch, flour or minute tapioca and let stand 15 minutes until cherries begin to release their juice. Spoon into pie shell and bake as recipe directs. You may also combine sour cherries and a small amount of sweet cherries for variety.

Both sweet and sour cherries make excellent jam and preserves, but will require pectin to thicken. Follow your favorite recipe.

Nutrition Chart

Sweet Cherries/1 cup pitted

104
Total fat (g)
1.4
Saturated fat (g)
0.3
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.4
Dietary fiber (g)
3.3
2
Carbohydrate (g)
24
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
0

Sour Cherries/1 cup pitted

78
Total fat (g)
0.5
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.1
Dietary fiber (g)
2.5
2
Carbohydrate (g)
19
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
5
Beta-carotene (mg)
1.1
Vitamin C (mg)
16


Date Published: 04/20/2005
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