Compact, juicy, and colourful, cherries are
nicely supplied with nutrients, notably pectin (a soluble fibre
that helps control blood cholesterol levels), vitamin C, and
beta-carotene, with some potassium. (Sour cherries, have considerably
more vitamin C than sweet cherries do, though much of it is
lost when the cherries are cooked.)
Cherries are also high in a number of phytochemicals,
including: anthocyanins (pigments responsible for the red and
blue colours of fruits and vegetables), which may have anticancer
properties based on their antioxidant activities that defend
cells against harmful carcinogens); and quercetin, a so-called
flavonoid, which is an antioxidant and may have both anticancer
potential as well as anti-inflammatory and antihistaminic properties.
It is this anti-inflammatory activity that has made cherries
(specifically cherry juice) of interest to people who suffer
There's even a possible dental health bonus
in that studies have shown that a substance (not yet identified)
in cherry juice may help prevent tooth decay.
Buy cherries that have been kept cool and moist, as flavour
and texture both suffer at warm temperatures. Take just a few
cherries at a time in your hand and select only the best. If
circumstances allow, taste one. Good cherries should be glossy,
plump, hard, and dark coloured for their variety. Reject undersized
fruits or those that are soft or flabby.
Check carefully for bruises or cuts on the
dark surface, and avoid cherries that are sticky through juice
leakage. If you find many damaged fruits, consider shopping
elsewhere, as a number of spoiled cherries in a tray will start
the others on the road to decay.
The stems should be fresh and green; avoid
cherries without stems, as the resulting skin break presents
an opportunity for decay to begin. Darkened stems are a sign
of either old age or poor storage conditions.
Loosely pack (to minimise bruising) unwashed cherries in plastic
bags, or pour them into a shallow pan in a single layer and
cover with plastic wrap. Store them in the refrigerator. Fresh
cherries in good condition should keep for up to a week, but
check them occasionally and remove any that have begun to go
You can extend the cherry season by freezing
them. Rinse and drain the cherries thoroughly, then spread them
out in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze. Once frozen,
transfer the cherries to a heavy plastic bag. They'll keep for
up to one year. When freezing fruits, vegetables or any other
food, it's a good idea to label and date the bag, that way you'll
know what you have on hand and how long you've had it.
When serving fresh cherries, simply rinse them under cold water
and drain; they're most attractive with the stems intact. To
pit cherries for cooking, halve them with a paring knife and
pry out the pit with the tip of the knife, or use an inexpensive
cherry pitter (found in any kitchenware shop), which works like
a hole punch. A partially unbent paper clip (or an old-fashioned
V-shaped hairpin, if you can find one) will also do the job.
If cooked for just a few minutes, sweet cherries
retain their firm texture, and their flavour develops a depth
and richness. Try poaching them, this gentle cooking method
preserves their texture. Stem and pit the cherries, then drop
them into a small amount of simmering water or a combination
of water and wine and cook until the fruit is slightly softened
and heated through, about 1 to 3 minutes. If you like, you can
season the simmering water with a cinnamon stick, a little ground
allspice, or even a hint of pepper.
Cherries can also be sautéed in a
small amount of butter and sugar and served in crepes, atop
pancakes or waffles or over frozen yogurt and ice cream.
Both sweet and sour cherries make excellent
jam and preserves, but will require pectin to thicken. Follow
your favorite recipe.