Cherries got their start in the areas of ancient Turkey and Greece, which makes their way to Rome around 72 BC. They’re in exactly the same fruit family as peaches, plums, apricots, and almonds.
While many of us combine cherry blossoms with Japan, interestingly, most of those gorgeous blossoms don’t turn into fruit. Edible cherry producing trees were brought from the West in the late 1800s (believe what they were missing all those centuries). However, Japan doesn’t appreciate the fruit as we do, and pies are definitely not on most menus.
In America, because of their lovely blossoms, cherry trees were planted by settlers up and down the Northeast shore. Early Dutch and French immigrants planted tens of thousands in the NY city area in addition to points west, in what is now Michigan. When George Washington purportedly chopped down a cherry tree, he just might have started the ball rolling.
There are essentially two different types –sweet and sour. They have a relatively short growing season and aren’t particularly hearty trees. The U.S. is the second largest producer of cherries at 300,000 tons annually, following top producer, Turkey, which weighs in with 460,000 tons. Northwest and Midwest states grow the majority of cherries, Traverse City, Michigan reigns as the cherry capital of the world and holds a enormous festival annually. Known for their sour cherries, they feature the world’s largest cherry pie each year (bring your own vanilla ice cream). The wood of cherry trees is a favorite type for furniture in the U.S.
French chefs have given their seal of approval (what more validation do you require?) And use cherries as a sauce for roast duck, flaming desserts (jubilee), crepe fillings and a popular tart called clafoutis. Americans love their pies, and cherry takes a back seat to timeless apple, it still ranks in the top 5. And we enjoy them in more ways than one:
garnish for whipped cream
flaming cherries jubilee
New York cherry ice cream
Snacking dried or fresh
duck with cherry sauce
Chocolate covered candy
wine and liqueur
Not only are cherries great for cooking and eating, but they also tout health benefits too, including anti inflammatory and anti-inflammatory benefits, decrease risk of gout, promote better sleep, lower uric acid, all demonstrated by research at Mayo Clinic and numerous others. Even though the season is short, they are easily available year-round in canned and frozen forms, and a few markets and health food markets sell juice and dried cherries.
The hottest sweet varieties include Rainier, Bing, and Lambert, the tart varieties belong to Royal Anne, Montmorency, Morello and Early Richmond. However, foodie president Thomas Jefferson, who was an avid gardener and horticulturist, cultivated a variety which he considered to be the best, called”Carnation.” In general, he planted fourteen varieties of cherry trees in his enormous orchard, together with plum, peach, apple and apricot trees. He also planted numerous carnation cherry trees along several walkways at Monticello, due to their highly fragrant blossoms. A sweet dark selection, it was particularly prized for eating fresh. Other varieties he incorporated into his cooking. (When neighbor George Washington came to see, were guards posted in the orchard entry?)
So, whatever shirts your hit parade, be it sweet or sour, fresh, baked or sauced, they’re one of America’s most beloved fruits. Cherries. Have a bowl.