Cherries are here :)

Coming in close on apricot season’s heels, cherry season nonchalantly strolled into town. What a welcome sight were the bags of red fruit, sitting in the refrigerated display at the local grocery store, begging to be placed in my shopping cart and taken home.

Our first fresh cherries of the season were California cherries. They were bright red, and pretty tart. The next were dark red, sweet Bing cherries that came to town all the way from the Pacific Northwest.

Whether tart or sweet, grabbing a handful to eat beat the heck out of the frozen cherries we’ve been getting by with for so long.

Sweet cherries, including Bing and Rainier varieties, are usually available from May to August. Sour, or tart cherries have a much shorter growing season and can usually be found for a week or two, sometime around the middle of June.

Double cherries.
I love finding double cherries!

Cherries are part of the fruit group called “stone fruit.” A stone fruit is a fruit with a large stone inside. The stone, also referred to as the pit, is sometimes called the seed, but that’s not really accurate because the seed actually is inside the stone. Some examples of other stone fruits are peaches, nectarines, plums, lychees, mangoes, almonds (yes, almonds) and apricots.

Fruit fall into two categories when it comes to how they ripen – climacteric and non-climacteric. Climacteric fruit continue to ripen after they are harvested, and emit ethylene along with increased rate of respiration. Examples are apples, apricots, avocados, bananas, blackberries, kiwi, plums, peaches, pears and tomatoes.

Non-climacteric fruits don’t ripen any more than they were when they were harvested, such as citrus, grapes, raspberries, strawberries, cashews and cherries. They also do not ripen faster when exposed to ethylene like climacteric fruit do, so they need to be nice and ripe when they’re picked.

Cherries have long been known to provide excellent health benefits. Of course, this doesn’t include the candied maraschino cherries that come in jars and are often used in pineapple upside-down cakes and as garnish for Shirley Temple drinks and other adult beverages… maraschinos contain extra sugar and aren’t as healthy as the un-candied fruit.

Often called, “America’s super fruit,” and cherries offer key nutrition for a long and healthy life. They’re packed with anthocyanins, powerful phytonutrients that jump-start your immune system and give cherries that red hue.

There’s lots of dietary information available that supports the benefits of ingesting real cherries and drinking tart cherry juice, but here are a few of the high points.

Eating cherries leads to a boost in antioxidant activity in the body, even after just one-and-a-half servings of tart cherries, commonly called sour cherries. Those first California cherries I bought this season were tart and delicious.

Eating real cherries and drinking cherry juice helps with arthritis and inflammatory conditions. Cherries help lower blood sugar levels in people with diabetes. They help lower the risk of colon cancer. Cherries help lower the risk of heart disease. They help improve your memory. And, as if all of that wasn’t good enough, drinking tart cherry juice helps you get a good night’s sleep.

One cup of cherries has about 90 calories and is an ample supply of fiber, protein, and vitamins A and C, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).

During cherry season, I love to stock up, pit and freeze them. I wash pounds and pounds of cherries at a time, and keep them in the refrigerator, ready as a snack when we need something sweet. I cut them up to add to our breakfast oatmeal, and use them for the occasional chocolate cherry cobbler that I just had to make to use up those cherries.

I am thankful we can buy fresh cherries during the summer months and frozen cherries year-round from our local grocers.

When you get your cherries home, refrigerate them in a plastic bag. Discard any bruised or moldy cherries before refrigerating. For a longer shelf-life, don’t wash the cherries until ready to eat or use in a recipe. Cherries will usually keep for about 4 to 10 days in the fridge.

 

Chocolate Cherry Cobbler

Fruit:
4 cups fresh or frozen dark cherries, pitted
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
3 tablespoons corn starch
1-1/4 cup water

Batter:
1 cup flour
1/2 cup sugar
6 tablespoons cocoa powder OR cacao powder – I used cacao and it was amazing!
1 teaspoon cinnamon
4 teaspoons baking powder
dash salt
1-1/2 cups milk
1 stick butter melted

Fruit:
In a small bowl, mix the corn starch with 1 cup water and set aside. Place the pitted cherries in a large pan with 1/4 cup water and begin to heat them over medium heat, stirring to keep the cherries from burning. As the cherries begin to heat, they will release juice. Add the sugar and cinnamon, stirring until the mixture comes to a boil. Boil for 1 minute stirring constantly, add the corn starch mixture to the cherries and cook until the mixture is thick.
Remove from the heat immediately. Set aside.

Batter:
Melt butter and pour it in the bottom of a 9X13 baking dish.
Mix flour, sugar, cocoa powder, cinnamon, salt and baking powder together.
Add the 1-1/2 cups milk and mix until completely blended.
Pour the batter on top of the melted butter.
Spoon the fruit over the batter.

Bake:
Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, or until a knife inserted in the center comes out relatively clean. Up in the Davis Mountains at 5,000 feet above sea level, it took 44 minutes, but everything takes longer to bake here.
You can cool the cobbler, or serve it warm. Top it with whipped cream, vanilla ice cream, or just eat it straight up.

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