Even though they’re not in season yet, February is National Cherry Month.
Maybe it’s because we’re in the dead of winter and the thought of cherries brings memories of warm June sunshine, but whatever the reason, it’s always a good time to celebrate this favorite fruit. Cherries are versatile, delicious, and extremely healthful!
There are a few different types of cherries, all of which are wonderful
First, we have dark sweet cherries. These are the classic Bing, which are most commonly found fresh. They are my personal favorite summer fruit for eating out of hand, then seeing how far I can spit the pits. Secondly, there are tart cherries. The variety most commonly grown in the US is Montmorency. They are very low in sugar, and are very bright red. Also called sour cherries, they are usually found in dried, frozen, and juice form. Thirdly, there are Rainier cherries. More uncommon, these are golden colored with a hint of red, and are the sweetest type of all. They are a specialty item and have a short season, so they are gone very quickly!
What are cherries good for?
Most of the studies of the healthful qualities of cherries have been conducted on Montmorency, or sour cherries. While sweeter varieties are also good for us, it’s the tart cherries that have garnered the most attention. Here are some things they are good for:
They can help support healthy sleep-Tart cherries contain melatonin, which is a powerful antioxidant that helps cool down inflammation. Melatonin is important for regulating healthy sleep patterns and allowing your body to regenerate and repair while you slumber.
They can help regulate blood pressure-Cherries have lots of potassium, which is vital for regulating our heart rate and blood pressure, and helps reduce the risk of hypertension.
They can ease the pain of arthritis-Besides melatonin, cherries contain many other anti-inflammatory compounds. Osteoarthritis is an inflammatory condition, so tart cherries can help to bring relief from discomfort.
They can help prevent gout-Gout is another condition that can be helped by the components in tart cherries. Gout involves the misregulation of uric acid in the blood. When there is too much uric acid, it forms crystals in the joints and the body’s response to these crystals results in painful inflammation. Tart cherries are very effective in lowering uric acid levels.
They can help prevent cancer-Sweet cherries contain lots of substances that have been proven effective in possibly preventing cancer-fiber, vitamin C, carotenoids, and anthocyanins. Anthocyanins in particular seem to have a very strong anti cancer effect and are what give sweet cherries their deep red color.
Cherries are excellent in both sweet and savory dishes!
The beauty of cherries is their versatility. It definitely helps that we can find them all year round in the freezer section of any grocery store. Here are my favorite ways to use cherries:
Smoothies-I like to blend frozen dark sweet cherries with homemade milk kefir or yogurt. Sometimes I add spices like cinnamon, cloves, or nutmeg, and maybe a splash of vanilla or lemon juice. The cherries are naturally sweet, so no other sweetener is necessary. You can also use tart cherries in smoothies, and add a bit of honey or maple syrup to sweeten it.
Salads-Dried cherries are wonderful on salads, as are fresh cherries when they’re in season. Spicy arugula, thinly shaved parmesan cheese, toasted almonds, and dried or fresh cherries with a simple vinaigrette dressing is a beautiful, colorful, and scrumptious combination.
Savory meat dishes-Pork and chicken both lend themselves well to the addition of cherries. I like to rub chicken breasts or pork tenderloin with salt, pepper, and coriander, then brown them and make a pan sauce with fresh or frozen sweet cherries, a bit of vinegar, fresh thyme, and chicken stock.
Wild rice-A blend of wild and white rice with toasted almonds, carrots, onions, celery, parsley, and chewy dried cherries makes a wonderful side dish for pork, chicken, or turkey.
Enjoy this recipe for homemade granola with dried cherries!
Oatmeal, uncooked-3 cups
Unsweetened shredded coconut-2/3 cup
Sunflower seeds-1/2 cup
Melted butter-1 stick
Dried cherries-1 1/2 cups
Combine the oatmeal, coconut, sunflower seeds, and nuts. Mix together the melted butter, honey, and vanilla and pour over the oatmeal mixture. Blend well and put on a baking sheet. Toast in a 325 degree oven for about 20 minutes. Stir the mixture a few times while toasting to ensure even browning. Cool the granola completely before adding the dried cherries. Store the granola in an airtight container. Enjoy with milk or yogurt!
“There’s no diet list I’ll follow that would rule out a cherry.” -Edgar A. Guest