Just when we’ve had our fill of citrus and the apple bin is beginning to bottom out, the most wonderful event happens. Cherries, the first of the early spring fruit, begin making their showy appearance.

Farmers grow several varieties of sweet cherries here in California. The first to arrive are Burlats, a cherry used to help pollinate Bings. They are smaller and softer than Bings. Next to arrive are Brooks, which look like a cross between a Bing and a Rainier. Bings show up around the end of June, followed by Rainiers.

By far the most popular and most anticipated, however, are Bings. They are the largest of the cherry varieties and have a dark, mahogany red color. Rainiers are slightly smaller and have golden skin with a pink to red blush.

The Bing season is short so when the cherry sign goes up at the produce stand near your farmers market don’t hesitate to get in on this amazing fruit while it is available. The best way to enjoy them is fresh, right off the stems. Yum!

Fresh cherries will keep about two to three weeks in cold storage. No matter what type you buy, they should be firm with bright green stems and should look shiny. They are loaded with lycopene, which scientific studies have linked to improved heart health, vision and immunity and also a reduction in cancer risk. Some studies show that cherries might have a positive effect on arthritis pain as well.

Think about buying extra for freezing. It’s easier to use frozen cherries if they are pitted. First rinse them under cool, running water and use a cherry pitter that works like a paper punch. If you don’t have a pitter, you can use a sharp paring knife to slice the cherries in half. Twist the halves apart and remove the pits. To freeze them, just place them in freezer bags.  Frozen cherries make awesome smoothies. Simply toss them into a blender with some other fruit and a splash of soy milk and blend until smooth.

Chocolate-dipped cherries

Who says chocolate-dipped strawberries should get all the glory? Cherries are wonderful with a little dressing up.

If you have a pound or two of fresh cherries, you’ll need about six ounces of semi-sweet chocolate, white chocolate or milk chocolate chips and 1/2 teaspoon of shortening. The shortening is optional, but it does help prevent the chocolate from crumbling when it sets up again. Wash the cherries and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. Save any cherries without stems for another use. You can remove the pits before dipping or leave them in. If you use a cherry pitter, remove the pits from the side so that the stems stay attached.

Place the chips and the shortening in a heat-proof bowl. Place the bowl over hot, not boiling water, making sure the bottom of the bowl is not touching the hot water. Stir the chips with a wooden spoon until they melt.

One-by-one, hold the cherries by the stems and quickly dip them into the melted chocolate. Place the dipped cherries on a foil-lined baking sheet and refrigerate until the chocolate is firm.

Dipped cherries should be stored in the refrigerator and used within two days. Note: If you did not pit the cherries before dipping, you should let your guests know before serving them.

Source: California Cherry Advisory Board


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