Every week we get Down & Dirty, in which Nozlee Samadzadeh breaks down our favorite seasonal fruits, vegetables, and more by the numbers.
Cherries, whether sweet or sour, are as cute as they are versatile. They play well with booze (Merrill likes to soak them in liqueur), they skew savory when paired with duck breast, and for hot summer days, nothing is better than a cherry snow cone. Today we're discussing cherries, stem to pit -- everyone's favorite tiny stone fruit.
There are many varieties of cherries, but they all fall under two basic groups: sweet cherries, which are the most readilly available, and sour cherries, which usually require cooking (or soaking in booze) to break down their juices. Both are perfect for eating on their own -- although be ready to pucker up a bit if you're snacking on sour cherries -- but sweet cherries are more generally used in dessert recipes while their sour cousins are used in savory ones. Sour cherries are also much more fragile when ripe, which is why they're more difficult to find -- if you can get your hands on them, fresh or frozen, snap them up.
The season for cherries is early summer, from early July to mid-July. Sweet cherries reach maturity first, with sour varieties appearing a few weeks later. Cherries take very well to preserving and freezing, so there's no reason to go all winter without them!
1. When you think of cherries you imagine them in pairs, don't you? It's also common to find cherries grouped in quadruplets on a single bunch of stems. This happens because of the way cherry flowers bloom -- several pink blossoms grow from a single focal point, and when those flowers wilt and become fruit, the resultant cherries are connected, too. It's smart to keep cherries attached to their stems whenever possible, as they will stay fresh for much longer. And when you're harvesting the fruits, harvest the cherries at the stem (no higher!) or you risk next year's buds snapping off along with them.
2. Unlike other fruits and vegetables, cherries stop ripening once they've been picked. If a cherry is hard, it's unripe and won't taste as good -- they should be soft to the touch, but not mushy.
3. When a cherry is ready to be picked, its pit loosens and is much more easily removed. You can pit with a cherry pitter, a sharp paring knife, or, as Amanda does, with a meat pounder.
Share the bounty -- here are some of our favorite cherry recipes. How do you cook and preserve cherries?