September 1, 2004
Red, pink, white or golden, those little orbs of end-ofsummer happiness are here.
Fresh sweet cherries and fresh tart cherries are pretty to look at and delightful when eaten raw, candied, dried or preserved in liqueur or syrup. The season is now, but it’s almost gone, so load up on fresh cherries while they are available.
In addition to being delicious, cherries are a sentimental fruit. A Japanese legend tells of a brave warrior who outlived all friends and family. His most beloved memory was of playing beneath a cherry tree during his youth. One summer, the tree died, which the man took as a sign that his time was growing short. Although a new cherry tree was planted nearby, the old warrior stuck by the old tree.
During the winter, the old man pleaded with the dead tree to bear flowers just one more time, vowing that if his request was granted, he would willingly give up his long life. True to his promise, he 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 that this tree still blooms in winter on the anniversary of the warrior’s death, though all other trees nearby lay dormant, waiting for spring.
Back now to modern times and how to load up on the perfect cherry. Choose brightly colored fruit that are plump, glossy and firm. Keep away from fruit with soft spots, and fruit that is mushy all over, has dried-out stems or has a moldy aroma.
Among sweet cherries, the Bing is probably the most widely available.
Bings are heart-shaped, deepred — almost purple — in color, juicy and firm. The Bigaroon is available occasionally here in the States (it is popular in France) and is crisp, dark red or yellow striped with scarlet and very sweet. Rainier (also called Queen Annes) cherries are available for a very short time and are very pricey. The indulgence is worth it: Each Rainier looks like a work of art — pale gold with stripes of pink, and the flavor is cherry-exquisite.
Cherries are highly perishable and should be eaten almost instantly. You’ll get the best flavor if you leave them at room temperature, but not for more than a day. They will hold for a few days in the fridge, but will not stay very firm. Store cherries in loose plastic to prevent them from drying out while avoiding the mold factor. They can be frozen, pitted or whole, rolled in sugar or not, to be used later for cooking.
Use fresh cherries as a snack of choice. If you still have some left, sprinkle them in salsas, add them to cakes (Black Forest) and custards, put them in
sweet and savory sauces and use them to make a clafouti. Clafoutis are a French invention that creates "hidden" fruit. Pour a batter of sugar, flour, eggs, milk and vanilla over pitted cherries in a buttered baking dish. (It’s a complicated recipe, so go online to a culinary Web site like www.epicurious.com and do a search for a clafouti recipe.)
If you miss the fresh cherry season this summer, be patient: The Chilean Bings should hit the stores for a brief time in November. You also can procure the dried, frozen or canned varieties. And no, maraschino cherries are not a mad chemist’s invention made with formaldehyde! Maraschinos are made from sweet cherries preserved in almond oil or liqueur. But they’re not an acceptable substitute for fresh or even frozen or dried.
Four ounces of fresh cherries will give you about 70 calories with lots of potassium and some fiber and vitamin A. Herbalists use wild cherries as a diuretic, a mild laxative (they’re in the same family as prunes) and as an antiarthritic.