Just the Facts: Cherries
Most of the sweet cherries grown in the United States are this large wine-colored variety. Their intense flavor and firm, crisp texture make them the ultimate all-purpose cherry, great for snacking or baking. They're usually available from May to August.
These small bright red beauties are the classic pie cherry, great in baked goods but a bit too tart to eat raw. Sour cherry season is extremely short, so grab them while you can: They're around for only about four weeks starting in early July.
Two-toned Rainier cherries are a crossbreed named after Mount Rainier, close to where they were first bred. They're exceptionally delicate and sweet — best for snacking, not baking. Their season is about the same as Bings', but Rainiers are harder to find.
- Choose cherries that are plump and free of cracks and blemishes with supple green stems and a sweet scent. (Taste one before you buy.)
- Refrigerate cherries in a bowl or ventilated bag and eat within a few days.
- Freeze pitted or whole cherries for up to one year: Wash and dry, spread in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until hard, then transfer to a zip-top bag to freeze.
Finely chop 1 pound milk, white or dark chocolate. Combine three-quarters of the chocolate and 2 teaspoons shortening in a microwave-safe bowl and microwave in 30-second intervals, stirring, until the chocolate is melted; stir in the remaining chocolate until smooth. Dip the cherries by the stems in the chocolate and set on parchment or wax paper. Let harden at room temperature.
Maraschino cherries originated in Croatia, where local marasca cherries were preserved in liquor. But the jarred neon red version sold today is much different: Producers bleach sweet cherries in a special brine, then dye them red (or other colors) and soak them in sugar syrup with almond extract or other flavored extracts.
- Straw: Stem the cherry. Put a sturdy straw at the dimple where the stem was. Insert the straw into the cherry and push out the pit.
- Paper Clip: Stem the cherry. Bend a paper clip to make an S shape. Insert one end of the S into the stem end. Hook the pit and pull it out.
- Knife: Put a cherry on a cutting board and put the flat side of a chef's knife on top. Hit the knife with the heel of your hand to split the cherry. Pull out the pit.