Cherries in Delft bowl with red and yellow apple (Painting by Amelia Kleiser)

Life is just a bowl of cherries.

Don’t take it serious; it’s too mysterious.

You work, you save, you worry so,

But you can’t take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it’s the berries,

The strongest oak must fall,

The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned

So how can you lose what you’ve never owned?

Life is just a bowl of cherries,

So live and laugh at it all.

Written by songwriters,  Lew Brown and Ray Henderson 1931

Cherries

The cherry is one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits, along with its cousin, the apricot. Cultivation dates back to 300 B.C. and its lineage dates back even farther. The common cherry tree, Prunus avium, is native to the temperate areas of eastern Europe and western Asia and is part of the Rose family. Its name comes originally from the Greek, and in Latin means, of or for the birds, due to the birds’ obvious love of the fruit. The English word cherry originates from the Assyrian karsu and Greek kerasos. The tree was beloved by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans both for its beautiful flowers and its versatile fruit. Although a different species of cherry was already strongly established in America by the time the first colonists arrived, the new settlers brought along their favorite European variety and eventually cross-bred the two. Today, 90 percent of the commercial cherry crop is grown in the U.S., mostly in Michigan, California, Oregon and Washington.

The most popular variety is the Bing cherry, which was developed by Seth Luelling of Milwaukie, Oregon in 1875. It was allegedly named for his Manchurian foreman. There are now thousands of varieties of cherries and most are still picked by hand.

There are two general varieties of cherries: sweet and sour. The success of your recipe will depend on choosing the right variety. Fresh sweet cherries are available in the U.S. from May through August. Sour cherries begin ripening in June. Dried cherries are now available year-round and can be eaten as snacks or used in recipes like raisins.

A Japanese legend tells of a brave warrior who lived to a great age, outliving friends and family. His most beloved memory was of playing beneath a cherry tree in Iyo during his youth. One summer, the tree died, which the man took as a sign that it was also his time to die. Although a new cherry tree was planted nearby, the old warrior was inconsolable. During the winter season, the old man pleaded with the dead tree to bear flowers just one more time, vowing that if his request was granted, he would give up his long life. The tree bloomed, and true to his promise, the old warrior committed hara-kiri beneath the dead branches of the tree. As his blood and spirit soaked down to the roots, the tree bloomed once again in the dead of winter. Legend holds this tree in Iyo still blooms in winter every year on the anniversary of the warrior’s death, though all other trees nearby lay in dormant winter state. Japan has gifted the United States with thousands of cherry trees on more than one occasion as a gesture of friendship. The trees are planted in America’s capital city, Washington, D.C.

Types of Cherries

Sweet Cherries

Usually eaten out of hand, sweet cherries are larger than sour cherries. They are heart-shaped and have sweet firm flesh. They range in color from golden, red-blushed Royal Ann to dark red to purplish-black. Bing, Lambert, and Tartarian are other popular dark cherries. Sweet cherries also work well in cooked dishes.

Sour Cherries

Normally too tart to eat raw, sour cherries are smaller than their sweet cousins, and more globular in shape with softer flesh. The Early Richmond variety is the first available in the market in late spring and is bright red in color, with the Montmorency soon following. The dark red Morello variety is another popular sour cherry. Sour cherries are normally cooked with sugar and used for pies, preserves, and relishes.

Fresh cherries should be clean, bright, shiny, and plump with no blemishes. Sweet cherries should have firm, but not hard flesh, while sour cherries should be medium-firm. The darker the color, the sweeter the cherry. Avoid cherries with cuts, bruises, or stale, dry stems. You’ll find stemmed cherries less expensive, but be aware that cherries with the stems intact will have a longer shelf life.

Frozen cherries can be substituted for fresh cherries in most recipes. If you are substituting canned cherries for fresh, you may need to drain and/or rinse off the syrup before proceeding.

Unopened canned cherries can be stored on the shelf up to a year. Once opened, keep the canned cherries in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within one week. Maraschino cherries will last six to twelve months in the refrigerator. Unopened dried cherries will last up to 18 months.

Cherry Storage

Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and wash just before eating. Before eating fresh sweet cherries, leave them out on the counter for a few hours as the flavor is much better at room temperature. Fresh cherries should be consumed within two to four days.

When using cherries in baked goods, you might notice a blue discoloration around the cherries in the finished product. This is due to a chemical reaction between the cherries and alkaline substances, such as baking powder or baking soda. To prevent discoloration, substitute buttermilk or sour cream for milk in the recipe or add an acidic liquid such as lemon juice. Pure almond extract is a natural companion to cherries. Less than 1/4 teaspoon added to cherry mixtures really brightens the cherry flavor.

When using dried cherries in recipes, you can plump them up just as you would raisins, by covering them with hot water and letting stand about thirty minutes.

Complimentary Cherry Foods

Black pepper goes amazingly well with cherries, especially when paired with pork, beef, or game meats. Dairy products also bring out the mild tart flavors of cherries, particularly sweet cream, gorgonzola (blue) cheese, ricotta cheese, and mascarpone. As for herbs, choose sage, chives, and verbena.

Cherry Measurements

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = about 80 cherries

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = 2-1/3 cups pitted

• 1 pound fresh unpitted cherries = 1-1/2 cups cherry juice

• 16 ounces canned cherries = 1-1/2 cups

• 21 ounces canned cherry filling = 1-1/2 cups

• 10 ounces frozen cherries = 1 cup

• 2 ounces dried cherries = 1/2 cup

• 1 cup fresh sweet cherries = 1 serving

Cherries for Breakfast

Cherry-Almond Coffeecake

9 servings

Ingredients:

Topping:

  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup regular oats
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1 tablespoon chilled butter or Smart Balance Blend, cut into small pieces

Cake:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour or Eagle Ultra Grain flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar or ¼ cup light sugar alternative
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons butter or Smart Balance Blend, softened
  • 1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 3/4 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
  • Cooking spray
  • 1 1/2 cups pitted sweet cherries, quartered
  • 2 tablespoons slivered almonds

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350°F.

To prepare topping:  lightly spoon 1/4 cup flour into a dry measuring cup, and level with a knife. Combine flour, brown sugar, oats, and cinnamon in a small bowl; cut in 1 tablespoon butter with a pastry blender or 2 knives until mixture resembles coarse meal. Set aside.

To prepare the cake:  lightly spoon 1 1/2 cups flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl; set aside. Beat granulated sugar and 1 1/2 tablespoons butter at medium speed of a mixer. Add the yogurt, extracts, and egg; beat well. Add flour mixture, and beat at low speed until well-blended (batter will be thick). Spread half of batter in bottom of an 8-inch square baking pan coated with cooking spray, and top with cherries. Sprinkle with 3 tablespoons topping. Repeat procedure with the remaining batter and topping. Sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 45 minutes. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Cherries for Lunch

Spinach Salad with Cherries

4 servings

Ingredients:

Dressing:

  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 2 teaspoons honey
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper

Salad:

  • 5 cups cleaned torn spinach leaves, stems removed
  • 1 cup bite-sized fresh pineapple wedges
  • 1/2 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
  • Crumbled blue cheese,  (optional)

Directions:

For the dressing, combine oil, vinegar, honey and pepper in a medium bowl; mix well. For the salad, combine spinach with pineapple, cherries and onion in a large salad bowl. Spoon dressing over spinach mixture; mix to coat salad with dressing. Serve topped with cheese, if desired.

Cherries for an Appetizer

 Honey-Rosemary Cherries and Blue Cheese Crostini

Begin your party casually by offering this appetizer “help yourself” style. Or, make up single-serving plates and present as a first course at the table.

Ingredients:

  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 cup fresh pitted cherries or 1 (12-oz.) package frozen dark, sweet pitted cherries, thawed
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/4 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 2 cups loosely packed arugula
  • 16 (1/4-inch-thick) ciabatta bread slices, toasted
  • 1 (8-oz.) wedge gorgonzola cheese, thinly sliced
  • Garnish: freshly ground pepper

Directions:

Sauté shallot in hot oil in a medium skillet over medium-high heat 2 to 3 minutes or until tender. Add cherries (and any liquid in package) and next 5 ingredients. Cook, stirring occasionally, 8 to 10 minutes or until thickened. Let stand 10 minutes.

Divide arugula among toasted bread slices. Top each with cherry mixture and 1 blue cheese slice. Garnish, if desired.

 

Cherries for Dinner

Grilled Chicken With Cherry Sauce

You can make the cherry sauce with either fresh or frozen berries. You can also serve it over grilled pork chops.

Makes 4 servings (serving size: 1 chicken breast, 1/4 cup cherry sauce)

Ingredients:

  • Cooking spray
  • 1 cup chopped pitted sweet cherries fresh or frozen
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/8 teaspoon crushed red pepper
  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 4 (4-ounce) skinless, boneless chicken breast halves
  • Olive oil

Directions:

Prepare outdoor or indoor grill. Grease grill racks.

Lightly crush cherries in a small saucepan. Add the wine and next 6 ingredients (through honey). Bring the mixture to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, 10 minutes.

Brush the chicken with olive oil. Grill the chicken, covered, for 4 minutes on each side or until it is cooked through. Serve chicken topped with cherry sauce.

Cherries for Dessert

Cherry Tiramisu

Serves 6

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup skim ricotta cheese
  • 1 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • 1/4 cup light sour cream
  • 1/4 cup coffee liqueur
  • 1-1/2 cups (Amaretti) almond cookie crumbs (about 30 2-inch cookies)
  • 1 can (21-ounces) no sugar added cherry filling and topping
  • Grated chocolate for garnish
  • Fresh mint leaves for garnish

Amaretti Cookies

Directions:

Combine ricotta cheese, confectioners’ sugar, sour cream and coffee liqueur in a large mixing bowl; mix well. Set aside.

In the container of food processor, process cookies, in small batches, until finely crushed.

Remove 6 cherries from cherry filling; reserve for garnish.

To assemble dessert, spoon 2 tablespoons ricotta cheese mixture into each of six (8-ounce) parfait glasses. Add 2 tablespoons cookie crumbs to each glass; top each with 2 tablespoons cherry filling. Repeat ricotta, crumbs and cherry layers. Finish each serving with an equal portion of the remaining ricotta cheese mixture.

Garnish with reserved cherries, grated chocolate and mint leaves, if desired. Let chill 2 to 3 hours before serving.

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