They’re here! Cherries, northwest Michigan’s ruby red signature crop, are here in abundance and in time for Traverse City’s National Cherry Festival. (Sometimes, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, they’re just a bit late.)
It’s the sweet cherries – which promise to be a bumper crop this year – that are ripe now. Tart cherries usually ripen about the third week in July, but they may be a week earlier this year because of the heat.
Did you know?
Tart cherries are loaded with antioxidants that are believed to relieve the pain of arthritis and gout and help fight cancer and heart disease. They’re also especially high in the antioxidant melatonin, which may help prevent or reduce brain deterioration associated with aging. And to top it off, they’re high in vitamin A and beta-carotene.
Cherries were brought to America by early settlers in the 1600s. Cherry trees, in fact, were part of the gardens of French settlers when they established Detroit.
Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian missionary on Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City, started modern-day cherry production in Michigan in 1852. Now, Michigan grows about 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries and Traverse City calls itself the cherry capital of the world.
It takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie; enough cherries grow on the average cherry tree to make 28 pies, industry officials say.
Tart cherries ripen two or three weeks after sweet cherries. Look for them in mid to late July.
Cherries are a truly ancient delicacy-explorers have found cherry pits from the Stone Age in European caves.
Tart cherries have fewer calories and more beta-carotene than sweet cherries.
Michigan grows 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries.
OK, here’s our newest discovery: Try eating tart cherries fresh. Everybody thinks they’re just for pies, but if you like lemonade, you might be surprised to find you actually like fresh tart cherries better than sweet cherries.
For the sweetest of the tarts, try local certified organic cherries – four farms listed at www.LocalDifference.org grow them. The brix, or sugar content, of organic cherries often tests higher. Another sweeter option is the Balaton tart cherry, which hails from Hungary and has been found to grow well in northwest Michigan.
Sweet and tart cherries are easy to freeze – pit them if you plan to cook them later; or leave the pits in and they’ll give an almond-like flavor. Just spread them out on a tray and put them in the freezer overnight. Then, put them in bags and eat them later, partially defrosted, dreaming of cherry blossoms and summer days.
Try fresh or frozen cherries – tart or sweet – in yogurt with a bit of maple syrup for breakfast. Fruit is nature’s fast food, and it’s both healthy and delicious. Trade in your chips for cherries this month.
Add cherries to yogurt, cereal, or fruit salads.
Try sweet, pitted cherries with gorgonzola cheese, green onions, and baby lettuce with locally made cherry vinaigrette.
If you have access to a food dryer, try drying a batch of cherries to enjoy this winter, either as a snack or a granola ingredient.
And for a savory recipe, try this one from the Cherry Marketing Institute:
Carmelized Salmon with Cherry Salsa
Stir together 3 tablespoons brown sugar, 1 tablespoon grated orange peel and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and rub over 1-1/2 pounds fresh or thawed salmon that you’ve placed skin side down in a shallow pan. Cover and refrigerate 2 to 8 hours.
Place salmon, skin-side down, on a gas grill over medium heat or on a charcoal grill four to six inches from medium-hot coals. Grill for 20 to 25 minutes or until the fish flakes easily. Do not turn the fish.
Meanwhile, toss together one ripe mango or papaya, seeded, peeled, and chopped, with one cup halved tart cherries (thawed and drained if frozen) and 2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint, basil or cilantro, 2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar, and 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper. Spoon salsa over the warm fish and serve immediately. Serves four.
2 cups cherries, pitted, coarsely chopped, and drained
1 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted
1 teaspoon almond extract
Cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time.
Sift together dry ingredients and add them to butter/sugar mixture alternately with milk. Stir in almond extract, then gently fold in almonds and cherries.
Spoon muffin batter into 12 greased muffin cups; cups will be quite full. Sprinkle each muffin with a little granulated sugar, and bake in a preheated 375 ° F oven for 30 minutes, or until muffins test done.
Want to make that cherry pie? A homemade crust is much easier if you chill the fat and flour first, then pull out the food processor. Pulse the chilled flour, salt and fat (butter or shortening) together until it resembles coarse crumbs. Then pulse in a few tablespoons of iced water, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough just starts holding together. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface (chill the rolling pin, then dust it with flour so it doesn’t stick), then transfer the crust to a pie pan. This basic technique will work for just about any pie recipe.
Taste the Local Difference is part of the Michigan Land Use Institute’s Entrepreneurial Agriculture Project, which aims to grow jobs, save farmland, and build healthier communities with food that’s thousands of miles fresher. Find more than 160 farms and fishers who sell fresh foods on their farms, in farmers markets, and to restaurants and stores at www.LocalDifference.org . TLD lead sponsors are Traverse City State Bank and the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.