Picking is at its peak and cherries of every variety are ready at farmers’ markets and local grocery stores. Pick up a pound of these juicy orbs for around $2.99. The sweet ones like deep red Bing, rosy-hued Rainier or Queen Anne, are best eaten as a snack. Just pull off the stem and pop one in your mouth to savor the sweet, juicy morsel clinging to the stone, then flip out the pit. Repeat. Save the sour Montmorency for that luscious pie you plan on baking.
The majority of domestic cherries are grown in Michigan, although New York state produces about 20 percent of the annual crop. Almost all of the cherries grown here are Montmorency—about two-thirds for freezing and the rest for canning. Many of them are processed into bright-red maraschino cherries.
Can’t find any fresh cherries at your favorite roadside market? Don’t fret. Your local supermarket can supply both frozen sour or sweet cherries, which are almost as good as the fresh ones, and they’re pitted. Comstock makes a good canned pie filling, and cherry preserves for spreading on your morning toast abound. Turn a simple can of sweet cherries into a spectacular Cherries Jubilee finish for your next party by heating the fruit with a bit of butter in a chafing dish at the table, adding a slosh of kirsch or brandy then igniting all. Pour over ice cream for a gala finale.
While you are enjoying cherries as a tasty treat, you are also benefiting from their many health properties. Cherries contain vitamin C, potassium and pectin, a soluble fiber recognized for its cholesterol-lowering properties. A serving equals a half-cup dried cherries, 1 cup frozen, 1 cup juice or 2 tablespoons juice concentrate.
Bring along a small bagful of cherries on your next plane trip to avoid jet lag. The fruit is one of the few natural sources of melatonin, an antioxidant that helps regulate sleep cycles. Pop a few in your mouth during your flights to help you hop time zones without missing a beat.
Cherry Pharm is touted by athletes and sports medicine physicians as being ideal for recovery. It was launched commercially in 2006 from the Cornell Technology Farm in Elmira, and has been used by professional and amateur athletes from around the world, including four of the top 10 NCAA football teams, which drank Cherry Pharm during the 2008-2009 season. The product has been distributed at Central New York running events, and local athletes have given testimonials about the quick muscle recovery after a run.
Another benefit of Cherry Pharm is for those having trouble getting to sleep: It has been shown to decrease the time it takes folks to go night-night. Drinking eight ounces of this magic potion before bedtime supposedly does the trick. Find it locally at Wal-Mart, CVS Pharmacy and Wegmans; an eight-ounce bottle costs $2.50.
Pitting cherries can be a messy and time-consuming exercise, but OXO has come up with a dandy gadget that does a great job. Made of sturdy, die-cast zinc, it’s kind of like a hole puncher—push the rod into the cherry and out comes the pit. There is even a removable spatter shield that directs juices downward and prevents them from soiling you and your work area. When not in use the spatter shield fits inside the front chamber and a lock holds the cherry pitter closed for storage. Non-slip handles makes the job a snap. It can accommodate large cherries, like Bing, and has a recessed holder for smaller varieties. As an extra bonus, it also pits olives. It’s priced under $12 and is available at Williams-Sonoma and Target.
If you have a cherry-pitting job, don’t throw the pits away. Wash them and spread out on a microwave-safe pan to dry. Wrap them in a little piece of flannel, put them in a large cotton sock, then sew up the end. Use to relieve neck pain by heating for a couple minutes in the microwave and placing the sock on the back of your neck.
From the July 2008 issue of Cooking Light. (Using sweet cherries instead of sour cuts down the amount of sugar needed. Lemon juice is added to give the tang of sour cherries.)
6 cups (about 2 pounds) sweet cherries, pitted (or use frozen)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
¼ cup cornstarch
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
¼ teaspoon almond extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
½ cup all-purpose flour (about 2¼ ounces)
½ cup rolled oats
½ cup packed light brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons chilled butter, cut into small pieces
1/3 cup sliced almonds
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. To prepare the filling, combine cherries, granulated sugar, cornstarch, juice, almond extract and salt in a large bowl; toss gently. Spoon cherry mixture into an 11-by-7-inch baking dish, coated with cooking spray.
To prepare topping: lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, oats, brown sugar and salt in a medium bowl, stirring with a whisk. Cut in chilled butter with a pastry blender or two knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Stir in sliced almonds. Sprinkle oat mixture evenly over cherry mixture. Bake at 375 degrees for 45 minutes or until filling is bubbly and topping is crisp. Let stand 5 minutes; serve warm. Makes 8 servings.
Caramelized Salmon with Cherry Salsa
From the Cherry Marketing Institute
1½ pounds fresh or frozen salmon filet with skin
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
½ teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper
1 ripe mango or papaya, seeded, peeled and chopped
1 cup fresh or frozen tart cherries, thawed, drained and halved
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, basil or cilantro
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar
¼ teaspoon crushed red pepper
If frozen, thaw fish. Stir together brown sugar, orange peel and pepper. Place fish, skin side down, in a shallow pan. Rub sugar mixture over fish. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 8 hours. Remove fish from pan, draining off any juices. Place salmon, skin-side down, on gas grill over medium heat or on charcoal grill 4 to 6 inches from medium-hot coals. Grill for 20 to 25 minutes or until fish flakes easily. Do not turn fish.
Meanwhile, toss together mango or papaya, cherries, mint, vinegar and red pepper. Spoon fruit salsa over warm fish. Serve immediately.