Love is a Bowl of Sweet Cherries: A Primer

I’m just going to come right out and say it: I love cherries. Favorite yogurt flavor? Cherry vanilla. Favorite Starburst? You guessed it. So when, at the farmers market yesterday, the man with the cherries kept offering me deals, I happily obliged and arrived home with three—count ‘em, three—pints of cherries. That’s a pint per person in my household. (Just for the record … Noemi was no help. She’d already polished off a pint of strawberries, an apricot and a plum and was totally egging me on with the cherries. And we’d been at the market no more than ten minutes.)

Cherries are actually a tiny stone fruit, of the same family as plums and peaches and even almonds. They’ve been cultivated around the Mediterranean region for over 2,000 years; probably as prized then as they are now for their thin skin, luscious bite and full, sweet flavor. They’re also a good source of both vitamin C and lutein, so they’re beauty’s more than skin deep. Here are three sweet types to try:

Bing Cherries – Bing cherries are the ubiquitous plump, blackish-red variety. They’re firm and plump and burst with a ridiculous amount of flavor for such a tiny fruit. Seek out ones that are dark and firm, without brown spots or blemishes and eat them out of hand or, if you can keep them around, use in the sorbet below.

Oxheart Cherries – I had a funny introduction to Oxhearts; a description given to sweet red cherries with a distinctive heart shape. We have a tree growing next to our driveway that began bearing heart-shaped red fruit. Christopher didn’t want me to eat them (he was convinced they were some exotic poisonous fruit), but then a friend identified them as Oxheart cherries and I forged forth. My reward was a tender, super-juicy fruit with an intense flavor not unlike a Bing. And it had been right there under my nose all along.

Rainier Cherries –  Rainiers, pioneered at Washington State University in 1952, are gorgeous. I think they look a bit like oversized red currants … or as if the sun were shining from within a Bing. Rainers’ rosy skin encloses sweet golden flesh with a slightly more subtle flavor than its red counterparts. They’re fun to experiment with, but also fussy on the tree and priced at a premium.

So live it up with a bowl of cherries while you still can this summer!