Ingredient of the Week, July 28: Cherries
Cherries are members of the Rosaceae family, a distant cousin to peaches, plums, apricots and almonds.
The sweet cherry originated in Asia Minor, in the fertile area between the Black and Caspian Seas, and was probably carried to Europe by birds.
Cultivation of sweet cherries likely began with Greeks, and later Romans, who valued the tree's timber as well as its fruit.
Sweet cherries came to America in 1629 with English colonists, and later to California with Spanish missionaries.
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.
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.
Allow one cup serving of sweet cherries per person when calculating quantities, less for sour cherries.
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.
How to Freeze Cherries
You can freeze fresh cherries, but they should be pitted first, otherwise they will take on an almond flavor from the pit. Beware the juice when pitting cherries, as it will stain clothing.
Freeze whole, pitted sweet cherries in 40 percent syrup (4 cups water plus 3 cups sugar) with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid (or citrus juice) added per quart of liquid.
They may also be pitted and frozen without liquid in plastic bags with all the air removed. Some cooks prefer to freeze separated cherries on a cookie sheet and then pack in bags for freezing.
To freeze sour cherries for pie filling, stir 3/4 cup of sugar into each quart of pitted, whole sour cherries. Pack in rigid airtight containers with 1/2-inch headspace or airtight bags. Frozen cherries will last ten to twelve months in the freezer.
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 alkalines 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.
Freeze fresh Cherries and enjoy them lightly frozen, or serve them as treats after your kids’ sporting event.
Serve 2-3 Cherries on a cocktail skewer in a Lemon Drop martini, adding a touch of sweet to a sour drink.
Pit some Cherries and slice them into lettuce salads with Gorgonzola cheese, for a color - and flavor - combination that can’t be beat.
Dip fresh Cherries into chocolate sauce, freeze on wax paper, then defrost lightly to serve as a cool summer dessert.
Cherries are perfect in fresh fruit salads. De-stem and take out the pit for an unusually fun fruit in salads. Cherries are best paired with melons, tree fruit and pineapple as a complimentary flavor!
Do you like cherries for eating out of hand? Do you use them in any recipes?