The sweet or tart and juicy flesh of cherries is the basis for hundreds of delicious sauces, jams, jellies, and desserts. They can be dipped in chocolate, candied, or mashed and added to liqueurs such as Kirsch.
Cherries are part of the large rose family and closely related to plums. Cherry trees now grow around the world, but may have originated in Asia. The U.S. is the largest commercial producer and exporter.
There are three main types of cherries:
Sweet – Grouped as Geans/Guines (including Ranier and Black Tartarian) and Bigarreau (including Bing and Napoleon). Typically served as a snack or mixed with other fresh fruits. These are most readily available in produce sections.
Sour – Grouped as Morello/Griotte (red juice) and Amarelle/Kentish (clear juice). The choice for most baking requirements. They do not store or ship well and are typically purchased canned. Varieties include English and Montmorency.
Wild – The maraschino is the most popular in this group, although it is now cultivated from other varieties.
There are other familiar varieties recognized throughout the world:
- Chokecherries are related and popular in Canada; however, the seeds and leaves contain deadly toxins.
- Acerola, or Barbados, cherries are cultivated in tropic and subtropic regions. Higher in Vitamin C than any other fruit, they are very tart, even when cooked.
Cherries are also available frozen, canned, dried, and as a concentrate or puree. Tart cherries may be sweetened during processing for commercial markets.
Purchase cherries with stems attached (if possible), which deters bacterial growth. The leaves of all cherries contain toxins; discard if attached. The ripest red varieties are dark in color. They should be firm, but not hard.
Refrigerate cherries in an open plastic bag for no longer than a week.
To freeze, pit and place on a cookie sheet until firm. Store in a plastic bag or container and remove as needed. They will keep up to a year.
- Wash well; some cherries are coated with wax for shine.
- Do not leave cherries at room temperature for any length of time—deterioration begins within a few minutes.
- Use a cherry stoner for large batches or cut the fruit in half and push out the pit.