With a Cherry on Top

Growing up in Montana, one of my favorite tastes of summer was always fresh cherries from Flathead Lake. I remember having a huge flat of cherries in the house in the summertime. Their firm but juicy flesh and sweet taste were like no other fruit I had tasted. The only drawback was the pit, I used to hate having to deal with the cherry pits. I still do. Perhaps that is why it was so exciting when my mom sent us a cherry and olive pitter last year. Now we can throw back cherries and olives with ease!

I as looking at the calendar today and realized that cherry season is here, actually it is almost over, and it got me to thinking about the different types of cherries. And better yet, what else do I not yet know about this delicious fruit?

cherry picking

Out of My Cherry Pickn' Mind, The Domestic Nest

There are two main types of cultivated cherries, wild cherry, to which most cherry cultivators belong, and the sour cherry. Sour cherries are mostly used in cooking, although the Greek culture does enjoy a certain sour cherry drink. Both species have origins in Europe and western Asia. The two types cannot be cross pollinated, meaning that you will not be seeing a wild sour cherry combination, at least in the natural world, very soon. Cherries are not a cheap treat. This is mostly due to the fact that they are a labor intensive fruit. Irrigation, spraying, labor and their vulnerability to damage from rain and hail also make cherries expensive. Cherries, especially wild cherries, remain extremely popular, so demand is never an issue.

Cherries have a very short growing season. The peak season for cherries in North America is in June. In many parts of North America they are among the first tree fruits to ripen. In the United States, most sweet cherries are grown in Washington, California, Oregon, and Northern Michigan.

Cherries are not only tasty, they also contain health benefits. Cherries contain anthocyanins, the same red pigment in berries. Besides giving them their color, anthocyanins also act as powerful antioxidants. According to a 2008 study funded by the Cherry Marketing Institute, rats that received whole tart cherry powder mixed into a high-fat diet did not gain as much weight or build up as much body fat, and their blood showed much lower levels of inflammation indicators that have been linked to heart disease and diabetes. In addition, they had significantly lower blood levels of cholesterol and triglycerides than the other rats. Studies like this one present some interesting findings, but the jury is still out on whether or not the same results are valid for humans. In the meantime I will enjoy my cherries knowing that eating 5-7 servings of fruits and veggies each day has a huge health benefit no matter what additional studies are still pending.

Well known sweet cherry types include “Bing”, “Brooks”, “Tulare”, “King” and “Rainier”. The Lambert variety is grown on the eastern side of Flathead Lake in northwestern Montana. I can personally attest to the tasty quality of the Lambert sweet cherries, yum. Both Oregon and Michigan provide light-colored “Royal Ann” or “Queen Anne” cherries for the maraschino cherry process. Most sour cherries are grown in Michigan, followed by Utah, New York, and Washington. Sour cherries include Nanking and Evans Cherry.

The sour cherry is a favorite in my family. Both for its use in baking as well as the Greek “Vyssinatha” or sour cherry drink. This Greek “medicine” is a family favorite and often used to cure upset stomachs, particularly after a large meal. It is easily made by adding sour cherries to a jar with a few simple ingredients and let it sit out in the sun for 40 days.

So there you have it, everything you wanted to know about cherries in order to enjoy them this season. Cherries are enjoyed best plain but as they start to ripen there are many great recipes to put them to further use. Enjoy!

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