Life will be just a big, huge bowl of cherries this summer. By all accounts, there will be a bumper crop of sweet-tasting, fabulously good-for-you, ruby-red fruit this season.
"It should be right up there with the best or second best year ever," says David Severn, promotion director for the Northwest Sweet Cherry Growers Association. About two-thirds of the nation's sweet cherry crop comes from the Northwest.
Severn told FoodFit that great weather, combined with growers planting more cherry trees than ever, explains the abundance of fruit. However, this won't translate into lower prices for consumers, he says, because demand is high.
Cherry season runs from early June until the end of August, but Americans are sentimental about cherries all year round. The famous Depression-era song "Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries" is still well known. Each spring, thousands visit the nation's capital to see the ornamental cherry trees in bloom. And on the Fourth of July, cherry pies are a favorite.
Cherries are a good source of fiber and vitamin C. But they are also a significant source of important, disease-fighting phytochemicals, including anthocyanins, which give the fruit its red color and may protect against certain cancers. Scientists say they only have an inkling of all the benefits these plant chemicals have to offer.
What to Look For
Look for plump, firm, shiny cherries that still have their green stems. (Where the stem leaves the fruit is a place where they start to decay.) Avoid soft cherries or fruit with brown spots.
Washing and Storing
Only wash what you plan to eat. Keep the rest in the refrigerator because the fruit deteriorates swiftly in the summer heat at room temperature.
Because they are ripened fully when you buy them, cherries will only keep for a couple of days in the refrigerator.
What's in the Bowl?
There are lots of different varieties of sweet cherries, but the Big Three are:
Bing: Mahogany-red cherries which are incredibly sweet and juicy. They were named after a Chinese immigrant who worked on one of the original Northwest cherry farms.
Rainier: Yellow-colored cherries with a red blush. Rainers are even sweeter than Bing cherries.
Lapins: Large, deep-red, late-season cherries that are firm and crisp.
The best-known tart or pie cherry, as they are often called, is the Montmorency. Tart cherries are rarely sold fresh because they discolor easily and are difficult to ship. Instead you can buy them frozen, canned or dried.
Cooking with Cherries
Funnily enough, you mainly use tart cherries to bake sweet dishes like pies and tarts and to make preserves. Aficionados say sweet cherries are best eaten by the handful.
"I wait all year long for cherry season, and when it comes, I eat my fill," says FoodFit Executive Chef Bonnie Moore. "Cherries are one of the few fruits nowadays that are only available for a short period each year."
If you're set on cooking, sweet cherries pair well with nuts and vanilla and certain roasted meats.
Try these delectable FoodFit recipes made with cherries:
Whole Wheat Griddle Cakes with Cherry Sizzle
Sour Cherry-Pecan Biscotti
Roasted Pork Loin with Lambert Cherry Compote