By Tory L. Davis and Amanda Hirsch
Cherries might be the unofficial fruit of summer — they’re nearly impossible to resist on hot days at the farmers market. (It’s hard to believe that these ephemeral, heart-shaped treats are related to the neon-red sugar bombs from a jar.) Cherries come in two forms, sweet and sour. While the sour fruit is generally too mouth puckering to eat out of hand, its soft, juicy cousin gets snapped up from May through August — and immortalized in paintings, poems and hard rock ballads.
This member of the rose family hails from West Asia and has been cultivated since at least 300 BC, when it was named for the Turkish town of Cerasus. Today there are about 900 estimated varieties of sweet cherries cultivated worldwide. In the U.S., the most common varieties are the deep ruby Bing; the firm, golden-pink Rainier on the West Coast and similar Queen Anne in Michigan; and the new, sweet-tart Balaton variety from Hungary with a dark burgundy hue.
With powerful anti-inflammatory properties, cherries are a perfect, portable summer snack. “Recent studies have shown cherries help reduce post-exercise muscle and joint pain,” says Clean Plates founder Jared Koch, who also notes that cherries may be helpful in treating arthritis and gout.
When shopping for cherries, look for plump, firm (but not hard) fruit with shiny skin and fresh green stems. Store them unwashed and wrapped loosely in plastic in the refrigerator, and enjoy them soon; cherries, like summer, don’t last.
Here are some ideas for incorporating these small but flavorful fruits into your summer. (Koch recommends using organic ingredients whenever possible, as well as hormone- and antibiotic-free meat.)
Grilled Chicken With Cherry-Chipotle Barbecue Sauce
You had us at “cherry-chipotle barbecue sauce.” This recipe comes from the Eat Well website, where a commenter summed up its charms quite nicely: “The flavor is sweet, smoky and a little spicy. It’s the perfect sauce to add a little zing to grilled chicken.” Indeed!
Deeply refreshing on a summer’s day, this spritzer is a simple antidote to heat. (For more beverages to quench your thirst, check out our recent round-up.) Koch recommends using a natural sweetener like stevia in place of sugar — keep the sweetness, lose the sugar crash!
Tart Cherry-Apple Crunch
Holistic health expert Dr. Andrew Weil combines the nutritional power of cherries, apples, walnuts, and other good-for-you ingredients in this dessert that’s sure to satisfy your sweet tooth. As Dr. Weil notes, the walnuts “add not only a crunchy texture, they also contribute healthful omega-3 fatty acids.” For added nutrition, use coconut palm sugar instead of brown sugar.
Mesclun Salad With Chickpeas and Dried Cherries
Dried cherries and fresh dill spice up this simple summer salad, perfect for vegetarians and those trying to reduce their meat consumption. Not sure how to dry your own cherries? Just follow these simple instructions.
Cherry-Studded, Herbed and Spiced Burgers
Steal the show at your neighborhood cookout with Kim O’Donnel’s burger recipe. These patties, which can be made with ground lamb, turkey or beef, get an unexpected kick with the addition of tart cherries, oregano and paprika (try using smoked paprika for maximum flavor).
What’s your favorite recipe that puts the cherry on top?