Tart cherries, which are sometimes called sour, red cherries, or pie cherries are best known as the key ingredient in desserts. They are also delicious in main courses, salads, jams and jellies, and beverages.
Tart cherries are seldom sold fresh in your local grocery store. They are harvested in July and usually frozen, canned, or dried for use throughout the year. You will need to find a farmers’ market to purchase them fresh.
Popular varieties include the Montmorency, Morello, and Early Richmond. Montmorency is the most popular of the sour cherry varieties the U.S. and Canada providing 95% or more of the sour cherries on the market. They are harvested in July and are light to dark red. This cherry has been cultivated in the United States for more than a century.
Sour cherry trees are usually smaller than sweet cherry trees. Sour cherry trees also grow in a wider range of climates . The leading U.S. states in the production of sour cherries include Michigan, New York, and Utah. Sour cherry trees will produce fruit when pollinated with their own pollen or with pollen from another sour cherry variety.
For an even sweeter sour cherry, leave the cherries on the trees until just before you think they will rot. The sugar content is the highest then.
As with other fruits, appropriate handling techniques should be used when working with cherries. Add the cherries near the end of the preparation process of your recipe, if possible, to preserve texture and shape.
Fresh Cherries – Put fresh cherries in a plastic bag and refrigerate immediately. Eat them within 3 days.
Canned Cherries – Canned cherries will keep for one year unopened in a cool, dark cupboard. After opening the can, transfer the cherries to a covered glass, plastic or ceramic container and refrigerate for up to 1 week.
Fresh Cherries – If using fresh cherries in pies or other baked dishes, pit the fruit with a cherry pitter or small, sharp knife. Operating like a hole punch, a cherry pitter makes fast work of an otherwise tedious task. Simply place a stemmed cherry in the pitter and then squeeze the handle. The tool pokes out the pit while leaving the fruit whole.
Canned Cherries – If the recipe calls for canned sour cherries and you wish to use fresh sweet cherries, reduce the amount of sugar and add a little lemon juice to taste. This works very well for cherry pie, cherry sauce for ice cream or cherry topping for cheesecake.
For centuries, the cherry, either as bark, root or fruit, has been a source of medicine for indigenous peoples. Native Americans prized cherries as pain relievers, especially for sore throats. The Cherokees used an infusion of sour cherry bark to treat laryngitis. The Ojibwa used the crushed root for stomach pain. The Forest Potawatomi employed an infusion of the inner bark to alleviate internal pains while the MicMac used black cherry fruit as a health tonic. (I suspect that the cherry flavoring of most cough medicines is a faint memory of this ancient Native American usage.)
The following information is from the Cherry Marketing Institute:
The good news about the health benefits of cherries continues to increase. According to ongoing research, Montmorency tart cherries are a rich source of antioxidants, which can help fight cancer and heart disease. In addition, there are beneficial compounds in Montmorency tart cherries that help relieve the pain of arthritis and gout. Other fruits and vegetable do not have the pain relief of tart cherries. While the research on the exact mechanisms that give the pain relief is ongoing, many consumers are discovering that tart cherry juice and other cherry products can stave off pain.
Many people have discovered that 100% ready to drink tart cherry juice helps relieve the pain of arthritis and gout. Others say it cures headaches and some say it helps them sleep better. Now there is a new brochure all about cherry juice. It is called “The Natural Choice: Tart Cherry Juice.” This brochure, produced by the Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI), gives consumers health benefits information, nutrition and usage ideas.
Also check out Health Benefits of Tart Cherry Juice.
DID YOU KNOW?
The cherry has been associated with virginity from ancient times to modern, which probably arose from the red colored fruit with enclosed seed symbolizing the uterus. Maya, the virgin mother of Buddha was offered fruit and general support by a holy cherry tree while she was pregnant.
1 pound fresh cherries = 2 1/2 to 3 cups pitted cherries.
One pound of fresh or frozen cherries = about 3 cups. It takes 4 to 5 cups of tart cherries to make a pie.
There are about 2 1/3 cups cherry pie filling in a 21-ounce can. There are about 2 cups of tart cherries in a 16-ounce can.
It takes 6 to 8 pounds of fresh tart cherries to make 1 pound of dried cherries
Freeze cherries as soon as possible after picking to ensure a high quality product. To freeze: Stem and sort cherries. Wash in cold water. Drain and pit. Pack into containers in one of the following ways:
With sugar: 3/4 cup sugar to 1 cup water; mix to dissolve.
In syrup: Bring 5 cups sugar and 4 cups water to a rolling boil. Chill syrup before using to freeze cherries.
Plain: Place in freezer quality plastic bags.
Linda Favorite Recipe Using Cherries:
Sour, Tart, or Pie Cherries: