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Cherries: The Bounty of Summer!

Cherries: The Bounty of Summer!

There really is nothing better than a basket of cherries on a Summer day.

Chef Clyde Serda

As I sit on this warm spring evening savoring a bowl of Bing cherries, I noticed the varied colors and degrees of ripeness and the flavors of each. No other fruit is so commemorated in art as the cherry tree depicting its blossoms, declaring spring.

Most history books state that Italy first obtained the cherry from Asia-minor, which was brought to them by the Roman General Lucullus returning home around 73 BC. However, the ancient Greeks wrote about a small bitter cherry which grew near Gaul. In the fourth century BC, the Greek scholar Theophrastus wrote a treatise on plants where he described the Kerasos (cherry) tree and its fruit and diuretic properties. The word cherry comes from Cerasus, which was a city near the Black Sea around the year 2000 BC. Known for its cherries and is thought to have supplied Greece with its fruit.

In Chinese cuisine, the cherry is mentioned in one of the oldest surviving texts, the Shih ching (Book of Songs) dated around 600BC, where it mentions that plums and cherries were eaten in the evening for their sweetness. Iraq and Syria were known for their orchards of apples, pomegranates, and cherries and other stone fruits, such as peaches and nectarines.

The Native Americans used wild cherries in preserved meat known as pemmican, which was made of dried ground game meat, bone marrow, and wild berries or cherries. This mixture was then formed into small patties and allowed to dry in the sun. When the first settlers landed, there were already four types of cherries growing on the East Coast. However, most of them were a tart or sour variety.

The cherry tree is a single genus member of the rose family Prunus, along with other stone fruits or drupes such as: apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums. The term “stone fruit” comes from having a large hard seed, surrounded by a hard coat composed mostly of lignin. Like other stone fruits, the pit or seed contains cyanogens which are a form of sugar-cyanide. The cyanogen does not leak from the seed to the fruit unless crushed, as is the making of Kirsch a liqueur made from crushed black cherries could have a small amounts of cyanide. But, swallowing an occasional seed will not harm you unless you choke on it. Cherries also contain a phonolic compound known as poloyphenoloxidase. This enzyme causes the fruit to turn brown when the fruit is bruised or the skin is broken and is allowed to come in contact with oxygen.

Also, the sour cherry, or choke cherry, has been used to treat gout. Those who are allergic to the plum family may suffer a reaction from eating cherries. Overeating cherries may bring on cramps and or diarrhea, especially if liquid is taken with the fruit, which makes the fiber much more soluble.

There are over 1000 varieties of cherries on the market worldwide. They are broken down into two main groups, sweet and sour, and then either colored or clear juice. But, I will just go into those which we are lucky enough to have in our local market. The mid-west produces choke cherries, which grow wild, as well as sour cherries, or tart cherries, which must be sweetened and cooked (cherry pie, yum!) However, on the West Coast, the cherry of choice is the sweet black cherry known as Bing, which was named after an Oregon Chinese grower who developed the cherry in 1875. Other sweet black cherries are the Lambert, Tartarian, Windsor, Chapman, Republican also known as the “Lewelling”, which was named after the Oregon pioneer who founded the state’s cherry industry in 1847.