General Description: Cherries, both sweet (Prunus avium_) and sour (_Prunus cerasus), are marble-sized stone fruits. Cherries are native to the area near the Caspian Sea and the Balkans. First cultivated in the Middle East, both sweet and sour cherries have been cultivated in the Mediterranean for more than 2,000 years. The Anglo-Saxon word for cherry, ciris, was replaced in the 14th century by cherise, borrowed from the French. English speakers misinterpreted cherise as plural, and so the new singular “cherry” was coined.

Cherries grow wherever winter temperatures are not too severe and summer temperatures moderate. They require winter cold in order to blossom in early spring. The U.S. is the leading cherry producer, with Germany, Italy, France, and Switzerland the leaders in Europe. The three main types of cherries are sweet (red and white), sour, and sweet-sour (including Dukes or Royales, which are crosses of sweet and sour cherries).

The Bing cherry is the leading commercial sweet cherry in North America. Its fruit is firm, juicy, and a deep mahogany red when ripe. Bings are exceptionally large fruits with an intensely sweet vibrant flavor. Oxhearts are any of several varieties of cultivated large, heart-shaped, soft-fleshed sweet cherries. Rainiers have golden skin with a pink to red blush, clear flesh, very sweet, delicate flavor, and fine texture. Sour cherries are small, bright, and uniformly red with thin skins and are most often used for cooking, preserves, and pies.

Season: Cherry season corresponds to warm months, depending on location. Generally, they are available from June to September.

Purchase: Choose freshly picked cherries that have plump, crisp, green stems. Fresh red sweet cherries should be firm, plump, bright, and glossy, with a full red or purple color. (The deeper the color, the sweeter the taste.) When buying white cherries (like Rainiers) choose firm, unblemished ones with a blush of color. Look for firm, though not hard, sour cherries with even color.

Avoid: Overmature cherries will be soft, dull, seeping, shriveled, or have brown bruised spots. Avoid cherries with dark and brittle stems.

Storage: Cherries are highly perishable and should be sorted and refrigerated as soon as possible for 1 or 2 days. Wash cherries just before using.


  1. Rinse under cool water.
  2. To pit cherries, invest in a simple cherry pitter or slice the cherry from the stem all the way around to the stem again, then twist the two halves apart and remove the pit.

Serving Suggestions: Steep cherry pits in scalded milk overnight, then use the strained milk to make a cooked custard ice-cream base, folding in pitted cherries near the end of freezing. Add browned pitted sour cherries to demi-glace and pour over seared sliced duck breast. Simmer sour cherries with red wine, sugar, cinnamon, and lemon zest, then strain and chill to make a syrup for topping ice cream or waffles.

Flavor Affinities: Almonds, chocolate, cinnamon, custard, duck, goose, kirsch, pork, red wine, sour cream, yogurt.

from Quirk Books: