Summer is a wonderful time of the year when it comes to the abundance of fresh fruit that is available—and cherries are one of my utmost favourite.
I believe we all have some fond memory from our childhood of eating cherries in the hot summer sun; either raw and fresh by themselves, or in a favourite family dessert.
The part of the world where cherries originated is very difficult to pinpoint as they supposedly have been in existence since prehistoric times.
Today, however, cherries are found all over the world. Birds love cherries, and so it is believed that due to their migration habits, they were the factor most contributing to the spread of cherry trees.
We tend to see and consume only one or two varieties of sweet cherries that are sold in our markets and roadside stands. However, there are many different ones that are cultivated around the world.
Cherries are divided into two classifications: sweet cherries and sour cherries. There are more than 500 varieties of sweet cherries and some 250 varieties of sour ones worldwide!
Three examples of sweet cherries that would be the most familiar to us would be Gean, Bing, and Bigaroon. Gean cherries are the most common. They are either red or black, and very sweet.
Bing cherries have skins that usually are not as dark and their flesh is substantially more pale, but they tend to be juicer.
Bigaroons are somewhat heart-shaped, and their firm flesh either can be red or yellow.
When buying cherries, make sure they are fully ripe. Cherries do not ripen on their own after harvesting.
Also make sure to buy cherries that still have their stems attached. Cherries without stems tend to spoil faster since the stem cavity will expose a part of the inner flesh.
Cherries can be kept at room temperature, but as with most fruit, they always will deteriorate more slowly if kept in the refrigerator.
Store them in a container or bag away from strong-smelling foods as cherries will tend to easily absorb odours, which will affect their flavour intensely.
Cherries can be frozen whole or pitted, but freezing will affect their flavour quality and firmness. Frozen cherries are best used for cooking.
Pitting cherries can be done with either a knife by cutting them in half, or with a cherry/olive pitter.
These manual mechanical devices look almost like a pair of hand pliers. One end has a round compartment which holds the cherry or olive while the other end is equipped with a “spike” that inserts into the flesh to push the pit through the opposite end.
Cherries Jubilee is probably the most famous cherry recipe. It consists of soaking cherries in a cherry liqueur, cooking them in a sugar syrup, and then igniting them with brandy.
They are boiled down until the sauce thickens. More cherry liqueur can be added at this point, and then served over ice cream or cake.
One of my favourite childhood recipes is one that my mother made for our family every cherry season. She calls it “cherry soup.”
It is whole cherries cooked in a sweet, red cherry broth with curds made out of flour. It may sound odd, but it is very delicious and can be served either hot or chilled!
Dear Chef Dez:
I just recently bought a whole case of cherries because they were on sale for a great price.
What are some ideas that I can do with them other than making jam?
There are many great ways to serve cherries. They add a great contrasting colour and flavour to green salads, and also are delicious in custards, sorbets, ice cream, fruit salads, and pies.
Black Forest Cake is another famous dessert with cherries. You also can try making cherry wine or macerating them in vodka to make your own cherry liqueur.
Try searching the Internet or your public library, and I’m sure you will come up with many great recipes for serving and preserving cherries!
Send your food/cooking questions to email@example.com or P.O. Box 2674, Abbotsford, BC V2T 6R4.
Chef Dez is a food columnist, culinary instructor, and cooking show performer. Visit him at www.chefdez.com