Summer is a wonderful time of the year when it comes to the abundance of fresh fruit available, and cherries are one of my utmost favourite. I believe that 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 favorite family dessert.
The part of the world where cherries originated is very difficult to pinpoint, as they have supposedly 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 cherries 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 more than 250 varieties of sour cherries 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 are usually 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 can either be red or yellow.
When buying cherries, make sure that 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 as the stem cavity will expose a part of the inner flesh.
Cherries can be kept at room temperature, but as with most fruit, they will always 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 intensely affect their flavour.
Cherries can be frozen whole or pitted, but freezing will affect their flavour quality and firmness. Frozen cherries will be 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 is recipe that consists of soaking cherries in a cherry liqueur, cooking them in a sugar syrup, and 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 favorite 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 are also delicious in custards, sorbets, ice cream, fruit salads and pies.
Black Forest Cake is another famous dessert with cherries. You can also try making cherry wine or macerating them in vodka to make your own cherry liqueur. Try searching the Internet or the library and I am sure you will come up with many great recipes for serving and preserving cherries!