It's hard to resist a bowl of glossy, deep red cherries sitting on the kitchen table... letting them stain your fingers purple as you eat - unless you're a pit-spitter! And what little girl hasn't prettied herself up with a little cherry-juice lipstain? From British Columbia to Prince Edward Island, cherries grow in orchards, backyards - they even volunteer in the woods. Cherries inspire chefs, delight the birds and bring out the kid in all of us. At their peak—available fresh from June to August—cherries are soft, sweet and perfect for summer snacking. There are two basic types of cherries grown in North America: sweet and sour (or as sour cherries are also known: tart, Early Richmond, Montmorency, Morello, pie cherries, or red cherries).
Sweet versus sour cherries: What's the difference?
Sweets are eating cherries while sour cherries tend to be a bit mouth-puckering, but are perfect for everything else: use them in jams to pies to ice cream, juices, compotes and beyond. A firmer fruit, they hold up when cooked, baked or otherwise processed, and as they cook, their tartness mellows to a mild sweetness. See for yourself with this collection of Canadian Living sour cherry recipes.
Cherries are not native to North America, in fact both the sweet and sour varieties were brought to Canada and the U.S. in the 1600s by French and English settlers. The plants—especially the sour varieties—adapted well to our climate, particularly around the Great Lakes region and provided the newcomers with a nourishing taste of home. At this point, Michigan is the commercial cherry-growing capital of the world.
Sour cherries are a hardier plant than the sweet variety and are well-suited to growing in slightly cooler climates. Here, commercial production began in the 1800s although Canada still is not a major producer; we still import more sour cherries than we grow.
But it's not all about pie. Sour cherries have a long, fascinating history rich with mythology and lore. It is said that a cherry tree offered its fruit to Maya, the virgin mother of Buddha, to keep her full and well during pregnancy. In North America, Aboriginal peoples discovered the cherry's medicinal properties—bark, leaves, fruit—all had their own benefits, from soothing tummy aches to sore throats.
Modern research is discovering that sour cherries possess a compound that relives pain, and there is mounting research that sour cherries are one of the most powerful superfoods. They're rich in health-promoting, cancer-fighting, anti-inflammatory antioxidants, as well as high in vitamins, minerals, and phytochemicals. And that's not all! Sour cherries are one of the few known natural food sources to contain the hormone melatonin, a mood enhancer and sleep aid.
Page 1 of 2 -- Sour cherry recipes and other ways to get a sweet dose on page 2.
Sour cherry concentrate shows promising results for improving cardiovascular health in animal trials, and is a low glycemic food, so it's recommended for diabetics. But ladies, your cocktail with the Maraschino cherry garnish does not count as health food. Maraschinos are made from sweet cherries soaked in sugar syrup; basically candy with a stem. For a health boost, reach for foods containing dried, frozen, or processed sour cherries or fill up with a glass of pure sour cherry juice.
Sweet ways to get your daily cherry dose
• Honey Pie Hives and Herbals Sour Cherry Honey, (honeypie.ca)
This small-town business makes a delicious, creamy, non-pasteurised honey with organic sour cherries. Try that on your morning muffin for an extra dose of goodness. Honey Pie is located in Ontario, but check out your local honey producers for similar products from your own region.
• Harvest Song Artisanal Preserves Sour Cherry Jam, $13/536 g (harvestsongventures.com)
From the Ararat Valley in Armenia, Harvest Song Artisanal Preserves bottles a fantastic sour cherry jam with a tart, grown-up flavour that's perfect with charcuterie and cheeses. Available from fine food shops or online at epicureal.com
• President's Choice Sour Cherry Juice
President's Choice blends tart sour cherry juice with apple, pear, and aronia juices. Aronia is a dark blue berry native to South America, popular in Eastern Europe, and also extremely high in antioxidants.
Sour Cherry Concentrates and Capsules
The medicinal power of sour cherries is so convincing that some folks are selling a concentrated version of the good stuff in liquid and even capsule form.
• Cherry Lane, $21.50/1 L (cherrylane.net)
A cherry producer in Vineland, Ontario, Cherry Lane sells concentrated sour cherry juice online to assist in arthritis, gout and headaches.
• Immunotec Cherry Concentrate, $37.71/bottle (immunotec.com)
Health food company Immunotec has turned cherry goodness into a sleep aid, sourcing out the Montmorency tart cherry for their cherry juice as they claim it's one of the world's best sources of melatonin - a natural hormone that helps you sleep. Check out your local health food and supplements shops for sour cherry capsules too.
• Cherry Chomper, $15.50 (talismandesigns.com)
Pop a cherry into the mouth of this Cherry Chomper and push down on his head. The pit falls into the clear plastic collection "tummy" below.
Did You Know...
Michigan cherry farmer Herb Teichman is credited with creating The Cherry Pit Spit in 1974. It started as a local get-together of neighbours, and is now an international competition recognised by the Guinness Book of World Records. Each July hundreds of folks from around the globe gather in Eau Claire, Michigan to try and beat the current record-holding spit of 95', 9". Yes, that's 95 feet and 9 inches. Hard to imagine, isn't it?
• Photo gallery: Sweet ways to enjoy sour cherries
• Menu: Sour cherry recipes
• Menu: Cherry jubilee
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Page 2 of 2 -- Don't know the difference between sour and sweet cherries? Check out page 1 for the details.