Fresh, local cherries are the jewels of late spring and summer fruit. Bright, plump, fresh cherries offer a lot of culinary delight—you can eat them plain right out of the bag on the way home from the market or dress them up in a batch of brandied cherries to enjoy when fresh cherries aren't filling up farm stands. In short, cherries adapt well to almost any style of dishes.
Sweet cherries, including the popular Bing and Rainier varieties, are available from May to August.
Sour, or tart cherries have a much shorter growing season, and can be found for a week or two, usually during the middle of June in warmer areas and as late as July and August in colder regions.
What to Look for in Cherries
If you possibly can, taste cherries before you buy them. Sweetness varies farm to farm (tree to tree, really) and week to week. Always look for shiny, plump cherries with fresh green stems and dark coloring for their variety. For specific buying tips see Cherry Varieties.
The Best Way to Store Cherries
Keep cherries, unwashed and stems attached, in a paper bag, loosely-covered container, or loosely closed plastic bag in the refrigerator until you're ready to use them.
If you want to keep cherries around for longer than a few days, pit and freeze them—no need to defrost cherries before adding them to baked goods.
How to Pit Cherries
Rinse cherries with cool water right before using or eating them. To pit cherries, pluck off the stem and insert the end of a medium-large paper clip into the stem-hole. Snag the pit and scoop it out. Sour cherries are the easiest to pit, but with a deft hand and just a little digging and twisting, the paperclip method is perfectly effective for sweet cherries, too. Use or freeze cherries immediately after pitting.
Simple Cherry Recipes
If you've had your fill of fresh cherries, you can include the fresh fruit in a soon-to-be favorite recipe.
Brandied cherries can be used as an ice cream topping, ladled over pound cake, or try them for the liquid when cooking a pork tenderloin, beef brisket or chicken.
For a change of pace from regular pancakes, throw a handful or two into your regular batter. Almost any cherry variety works, but tart cherries give your pancakes a little more oomph. For a special treat, whip up a cherry puffy pancake, which tastes even better than it looks.
Tart cherries take center stage in a cherry cobbler, which you can enjoy as a dessert or as a snack. Tart cherries work better than sweet ones in this recipe, especially if you serve it ala mode.
Cherry Drink Recipes
The sweet but not cloying flavor of cherries can be wonderfully refreshing in drinks and cocktails. You can mash your cherries for a cherry gin and tonic, or use them whole to decorate other drinks.
More Reason to Eat Cherries
Sour cherries are full of vitamin A, vitamin C, fiber, manganese, and copper.
Sweet cherries contain vitamin C, anthocyanin antioxidants, and melatonin, an antioxidant that fights insomnia and jet lag.