Cherries are beautiful, delicious and incredibly good for you. They’re packed with antioxidants, fiber, calcium and vitamin C to help protect against chronic diseases and boost recovery after exercise.
But Colorado’s cherry orchards suffered the same fate as other Western Slope stone fruits: They were decimated by a spring frost and are in short supply.
However, you can still enjoy the red orbs, thanks to states in the Pacific Northwest. Growers in Washington, Oregon, Montana, Utah and Idaho supply about 80 percent of the nation’s sweet cherries. And while they suffered some from early spring frosts as well as rains that delayed the crop, the now mature cherries are actually bigger, sweeter and juicier. The prices are reasonable too.
Cherries are in season now, so it’s time to stock up on them — for snacking on fresh, baking, preserving to enjoy later, or even canning, though that’s a more involved process requiring special equipment.
Before undertaking any of these options, I prefer to pit the cherries. For this job, I turn to my trusty Leifheit cherry pitter with a stone catcher container, which I bought several years ago at Sparrow Hawk Cookware.
Allen Eppley, at Sparrow Hawk, differs with me on this.
“We’ve actually had better feedback over the years with the Norpro pitter,” he said. “People like both the action on it and the suction mount. Leifheit has gone exclusively big box and Amazon, unfortunately.”
Whichever way you go, be ready for the reality that it’s a messy job.
One of my favorite ways of preserving cherries is to dry them. This method concentrates the sugar, so a serving of dried fruit is usually just a couple of tablespoons to a quarter cup. And since it will probably spike your blood sugar, you’ll want to offset that with a serving of protein and good fat, such as nuts or trail mix that doesn’t have candy in it. Just be sure to measure out serving sizes to keep portions small.
Freezing is another easy way to preserve cherries. Some sources recommend freezing washed cherries, unpitted with stems on. To that I say, pay now or pay later — eventually you’re going to have to pit them.
For drying or freezing, cherries can be left whole or cut in half. I prefer keeping them whole. They will take longer to dehydrate, but I think the flavor is retained better, perhaps because of the amount of juice released when they’re sliced.
To dehydrate cherries, place them in a food dehydrator at 135 degrees for 8 to 10 hours. Check the fruit, removing any that are fully dried (pliable, but not squishy). Dry for 2 to 6 hours longer, or until the fruit is fully dry.
To freeze cherries, simply spread washed and pitted cherries on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper and freeze. After they’re frozen, transfer to zip-top bags, label, date, and return to the freezer.
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