Whether fresh cherries are a favorite or a treat you’ve yet to try, the time to enjoy them is now.
Orchards in the Pacific Northwest, the nation’s largest growing region, experienced a long, cool spring, which often translates into more time and energy a tree can put into the fruit. When combined with the superior growing conditions characteristic to the area, this season’s fruit showcases what Northwest cherries are known for: their large size and sweet flavor profile.
Popular varieties grown in the Northwest include the mahogany-red Bings and super-sweet, yellow Rainiers. Rainier cherries, with their unique golden color and red blush, tend to ripen earlier in the year. Growers pick Rainier cherries over multiple weeks, selecting the ripest fruit each time.
Other varieties include the early-ripening Chelans and Tietons, followed by the often larger and darker Skeenas, Sweethearts and Lapins. Aside from the light-hued Rainier (which has juice that doesn’t stain) you can typically spot sweet cherries by their dark red skins – in general, the darker, the sweeter.
Great taste aside, sweet cherries are a healthful addition to summer picnics, parties and barbecues thanks to their fiber, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory power. They make for a snack that both grownups and little ones can enjoy straight out of the bowl thanks to their stem “handle” and can perk up appetizers, salads, desserts, sweet or savory sauces and more.
Outside of summer get-togethers, cherries make for a better-for-you late-night snack option as well. A cup of fresh, sweet cherries contains only 90 calories along with a low glycemic index of 22 making their cold, sweet crunch a tasty way to satisfy hunger cravings. Plus, they boast melatonin, which helps regulate circadian rhythm and promote healthy sleep patterns.
Fresh cherries should be kept in a sealed bag or container, and keep for approximately two weeks when refrigerated. To extend the cherry season and enjoy their health benefits after summer fades, buy an extra bag or two and preserve cherries by rinsing, packing and freezing them.
Basic freezing instructions
- Select 3-5 pounds of firm, ripe, Northwest-grown sweet cherries.
- After rinsing and draining, spread whole cherries with stems in a layer on a baking sheet.
- Place in freezer until firm then pack into freezer-proof containers or plastic freezer bags. Remove excess air and cover tightly.
- Add frozen cherries to smoothies or juices, or defrost and put in hot cereal, pies, turnovers, cobblers and more. Or enjoy as a frozen, sweet late-night treat.
To create a festive cherry dish for the summer season, try this Cherry Bruschetta as a snack or appetizer. Find more recipes and cherry tips at nwcherries.com.
- 18 slices (1/2-inch thick) small baguette-style bread
- 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
- 1 1/2 cups pitted Northwest fresh sweet cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 cup diced yellow sweet pepper
- 2 tablespoons finely chopped green onions
- 2 tablespoons lime juice
- 1 teaspoon grated lime peel
- 1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 2 ounces fresh mozzarella cheese
- 1 tablespoon thinly sliced fresh basil
- Heat oven to 350° F.
- Arrange baguette slices on cookie sheet and toast one side 5 minutes. Turn slices, brush with 1/2 tablespoon olive oil and bake 5 minutes longer.
- Combine cherries, cilantro, sweet pepper, green onions, lime juice, lime peel, garlic salt, pepper and remaining olive oil; mix well.
- Top each baguette with thin slice of cheese, 1 tablespoon cherry mixture and sprinkle of sliced basil. Serve warm or cold.