Market Fresh: Cherries

Whether you pick them yourself or buy a bag at the market, a bowl full of ripe cherries is one of summer's sweetest treats.
Cherriesmarket Fresh

Every year, we get a little thrill when we walk into the market and see a big display of cherries, ripe, red and juicy looking. It's hard to resist snacking straight from the bag in the checkout line. (C'mon, we're not alone on this one, are we?)

Cherries aren't just delicious. Folklore credits them with curing gout and arthritis, and scientific research suggests that their anti-inflammatory properties might be more than just a wives tale. The Agricultural Research Service has found evidence that natural compounds found in cherries may help reduce inflammatory conditions including arthritis, cardiovascular disease and cancer. In addition, they're full of fiber, vitamin C and potassium, and are loaded with the antioxidants quercetin and anthocyanins.

Falling into two main categories — sweet and tart — cherries are harvested from May through July, when orchards are overflowing with perfectly ripe fruit. It's no wonder that heaping bowls of cherries can be spotted at so many summer picnics and cookouts.

Selection, preparation and storage
If you're buying cherries in the fresh produce aisle, they're likely the sweet varieties. Tart cherries (like Montmorency) are almost exclusively used for baking and are most often found canned or frozen. Fresh cherries should be firm but plump, with a fresh-looking stem. Varieties such as Bing, Chapman and Republican are mahogany in color, Lambert cherries are dark red, and Rainier cherries are golden with a pink blush.

Fresh cherries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to two weeks, but when left at room temperature, will only last a few days. Since they are easily bruised, store cherries in a shallow bowl rather than a large bag to disperse their weight. You may also freeze cherries with or without pits on a single cookie sheet. Once they're frozen, transfer them to a plastic bag until ready to eat. While you may have heard that a paper clip is the best way to pit a cherry, hand-operated or countertop cherry pitters remove the stones most efficiently.

Ways to enjoy cherries (aside from out of hand)
  • A tropical cherry salsa makes an excellent accompaniment to grilled pork or chicken: combine 1 chopped mango, 1 cup halved, pitted tart cherries, 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Spoon over meat when ready to serve.

  • Add Bing cherries to a salad of mixed greens, roasted turkey and feta cheese for a sweet and savory side dish or main meal.

  • Fresh Rainier cherries add a delightful sweetness to chicken salad sandwiches or wraps.

  • Dried cherries are a great addition to cereal, granola, oatmeal, couscous or rice. To dry cherries, place halved, pitted cherries in a single layer on a baking sheet. Bake at 140 degrees for 6-12 hours, or until cherries look leathery and feel slightly sticky. Store in an airtight container.

  • Make your own dried cherry vinegar by adding 1 cup of dried cherries to 2 cups of white wine vinegar in a glass container with a lid. Let steep for two days, bring just to boil and drain. Store vinegar in a sealed container. It's great for homemade vinaigrettes: just combine 1 1/2 teaspoons cherry vinegar, 2 teaspoons olive oil, 1/2 teaspoon coriander and 1/4 teaspoon each of salt and pepper.

Want more delicious cherry recipes? Try these ideas from WeightWatchers.com:

Sautéed Tilapia with Almonds and Cherries

Almond, Toasted Oat and Cherry Trail Mix

Chocolate Cherry Oatmeal Cookies

Rhubarb Cherry Crumble

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