One must ask children and birds how cherries and strawberries taste.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Cherries are now in season. You can find many varieties of cherries in supermarkets, farmers’ markets, and pick your own cherry farms. Did you know that cherries are part of the Rosaceae family, and has cousins including apricots, almonds, peaches and plums? Most common types of cherries you will find include Rainiers, Van, Skeena, Staccato and Bing cherries. Sweet cherries had spread to Ancient Greece and the Mediterranean by 300 BCE, for Theophrastus mentions them. And Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) mentions that some 8 varieties of cherries were being cultivated in Italy, and that the Romans were spreading them as far north as Britain. The British, in turn, carried it to the New World in the 17th century.
Today, it is estimated that some 900 sweet varieties (ranging in color from yellow to black) and some 300 sour varieties are being grown. Most sweet cherries will produce fruit only after they’ve been cross-pollinated. Honey bees usually do the leg work, carrying pollen from a sweet cherry of another variety. Sours are mostly self-fertile. Another factoid about cherries: once planted, a cherry orchard takes 4 to 6 years to reach full production.
My favourite type of cherry is Rainier Cherries; they are called the princess of cherries. It is a large sweet cherry with a red blush. Sometimes they are called white cherries because of the flesh color and their skin is yellowish red blush when they are ripe. I like them because they are firm, with a nice texture and sweet flavour. When I buy cherries, I look for cherries that are firm to touch, and are without bruising or soft spots. I like to pick cherries with the stems on because with stems it is easier to pop them in my mouth.
Some folks say that cherries have health benefits. Apparently cherries have anti-inflammatory properties. People of First Nations have used wild cherries to treat fever, inflammation and sore throats. In folk medicine, cherries and their juice are used to prevent gout. Whatever their health benefits are, their taste alone is good enough to finish a whole bowl in one sitting. Spitting the pits is whole another story.
Besides eating them au natural, you can turn cherries into many tasty noshes. My natural inclination is turn them into salads and desserts. Here are two of my favourite recipes.
Bing Cherry and Mixed Green Salad with Kirsch Vinaigrette
Ingredients for the vinaigrette:
¼ cup Kirsch
2 shallots, finely chopped
2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
Salt and freshly ground pepper
Ingredients for the salad:
6 cups mixed greens (e.g., radicchio, escarole and arugula, Belgian endive)
1/4 pound blue cheese (e.g., Roquefort or Gorgonzola)
1 cup crostini croutons (I use Guy Fieri’s recipe, but you can use your own)
1 cup fresh pitted Bing cherries, halved
- In a bowl, whisk the vinegar with the mustard. Whisk in the Kirsch, then gradually whisk in the extra virgin olive oil. Season the vinaigrette with salt and pepper.
- Add the greens to the vinaigrette and toss to coat. Add the blue cheese, croutons, and cherries. Toss to combine and serve. Serves 4-6.
1 tablespoon softened butter
1 cup whole milk
1/4 cup heavy cream
2/3 cup all-purpose flour
3 large eggs
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoon almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
4 cups dark pitted cherries, preferably Bing cherries
1 tablespoon confectioners’ sugar
- Preheat an oven to 350F. Butter a round 9-inch baking pan with some softened butter.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the milk, cream, flour, eggs, sugar, almond extracts, and salt until it forms a smooth, thin batter. Spread 3/4 cup of the batter onto the bottom of the prepared baking pan and bake it for 2-4 minutes. Watch the batter closely and remove it before it cooks through completely. It should just start to thicken and set when it is removed from the oven.
- Transfer the dish to a heatproof surface and arrange the cherries over the hot batter. Pour the remaining batter over the cherries and bake for 35-40 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Sprinkle the confectioners’ sugar over the finished clafouti and serve it warm. This cherry clafouti recipe makes 8 servings.
Finally, here are some helpful cherry handling tips:
- Store cherries in the refrigerator to keep them cold. They will last for up to a week.
- Cherries ripen quickly and should be used as soon as possible upon ripening.
- Don’t wash cherries until you are ready to use them.
- Remove mushy or rotten cherries from the bag to preserve the rest.
- You can freeze most types of cherries by first rinsing and draining them thoroughly.
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