As summer draws close, we’d like to celebrate a quintessential summer treat: Cherries.
These bite-sized fruits may bring to mind sinfully good pies, stained fingers, and the occasional pit spitting contest (watermelons aren’t the only fruit with that claim to fame). In my case, I can’t help but remember long afternoons in a tree with an equal amount of stone fruit going into my stomach as the bucket I was meant to be filling (totally worth the eventual stomach ache).
Even if you don’t hold quite the same associations as I do, there are still plenty of reasons to enjoy this stone fruit. Cherries aren’t just a tasty snack, they’re also a healthy one. Whether you’ve decided to chow down on sweet or tart cherries, you’ll be getting a snack full of nutrients including fiber and antioxidants.
While I am a staunch supporter of cherries as an afternoon snack, it’s worth mentioning that not all cherries are the same. We tend to have an image of sweet, red fruit, but in truth, there are more than 1,000 varieties, each with its own distinct flavor.
And, while some of these don’t quite match our childhood preconceptions, they still have their uses. Here are a few common types.
Have you ever brought a bag of cherries home from the supermarket? Chances are those were Bing.
These dark red, sweet cherries are easily found in grocery stores. They’re slightly heart-shaped with a sweet, juicy flesh (that sentence in no way brought zombies to mind). They’re also just a tiny bit acidic, though, so the sweetness isn’t too overpowering.
But while Bing cherries make for a great snack on their own, that’s not all they’re good for. Compotes, pies, and preserves are all perfectly acceptable options. Pro tip: The darker the cherry, the riper it is.
As someone who has (unfortunately) never been to Washington State and has limited knowledge of its geography, the name of these cherries failed to ring any bells at first. Those who aren’t quite as ignorant as me, however, might have had their thoughts turn to a particular peak…and they’d be correct.
Rainier cherries get their name from Mt. Rainier in Washington, the state they were developed in (back in 1952).
Appearance-wise, Rainers are pretty distinct with a lovely red-and-yellow flesh. They’re not really recommended for cooking, but given their mildly sweet flavor, you’d be hard-pressed not to eat them all before you could add them to whatever you were making.
Unfortunately, that sweet flavor comes with a price tag. The season for Rainier cherries is fairly short so they’re a bit expensive.
Moving into sour territory.
Montmorency cherries are a very Midwestern fruit, a distinction largely because they are almost only grown in Michigan.
While Montmorency cherries are one of the most popular among the sour ones, they’re usually considered to be too sour to eat fresh. Still, you can find them dried, frozen, or canned. They’re popular in sour cherry pies and are also used for tart cherry juice.
Speaking of which, I definitely recommend using said juice to make this.
A personal favorite.
Also known as Chelan cherries, these cherries come in a deep mahogany color that’s similar to Bing cherries. When they’re ripe their color is almost black (therein lies the name).
While their color and sweetness aren’t too far off from Bing cherries, though, Chelan cherries ripen earlier and have a longer shelf life. Also, like Bings, you can easily eat these raw (in fact, they’re great with yogurt). They’re sweet enough to eat out of the bowl or in baked goods.
Another “pie cherry”. The name may serve as a hint, but you probably don’t want to be eating morellos raw.
Despite being a beautiful red color, as well as a popular choice for baked goods, these sour cherries do not shy away from that classification. As such, you probably don’t want to try to eat them raw. Their tartness could make that an experience you won’t be eager to repeat.