Bowl of cherries

Cherries began in the regions of ancient Turkey and Greece, reaching Rome around 72 BC. Moving slowly toward France, King Henry VIII liked them enough to bring them back to England (Henry was a serious foodie) in the early 16th century. They belong to the same fruit family as peaches, plums, apricots, and almonds.

While many of us associate cherry blossoms with Japan, interestingly, most of those beautiful flowers do not turn into fruit. Edible cherry-producing trees were brought over from the West in the late 1800s (think about what they lost during all those centuries). However, Japan doesn’t value fruit like we do, and pastries are definitely not on most menus.

In the United States, settlers planted cherry trees along the entire northeast coast for their beautiful flowers. Early Dutch and French immigrants planted thousands in the New York City area, as well as points to the west, in what is now Michigan. When George Washington supposedly cut down a cherry tree, he could have started the ball rolling.

Basically, there are two types: sweet and sour. They have a relatively short growing season and are not particularly abundant trees. The United States is the second largest producer of cherries with 300,000 tons per year, after the main producer, Turkey, which weighs 460,000 tons. The Northwest and Midwest states grow most of the cherries, Traverse City, Michigan reigns as the cherry capital of the world and holds a major festival annually. Known for their sour cherries, they offer the world’s largest cherry pie every year (bring your own vanilla ice cream). Cherry wood is a popular type for furniture in the United States.

French chefs have given their stamp of approval (what more validation do you need?) And use cherries as a sauce for roast duck, flamed desserts (jubilee), crepe fillings, and a popular tart called clafoutis. Americans love their pastries, and while the cherry takes a backseat to the timeless apple, it still ranks in the top five. And we enjoy them in more ways than one:

  • Cherry cobbler

  • garnish for whipped cream

  • include in cocktails

  • Flaming Cherries Jubilee

  • New York cherry ice cream

  • Cherry jam

  • cherry sauce

  • fresh or dry snacks

  • duck with cherry sauce

  • cherry cola

  • cherry compote

  • cherry patties

  • fruit dumplings

  • chocolate covered caramel

  • wine and liquor

Cherries are not only great for cooking and eating, but they also have all the health benefits including antioxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits, reduce the risk of gout, promote better sleep, reduce uric acid – all proven by studies in Mayo Clinic and numerous others. Although the season is short, they are available year-round in frozen and canned forms, and some grocery stores and health food markets sell juice and dried cherries.

The most popular sweet varieties include Rainier, Bing, and Lambert, sour varieties belong to Royal Anne, Montmorency, Morello, and Early Richmond. But the president of the foodies, Thomas Jefferson, who was an avid gardener and horticulturist, grew a variety that he believed to be the best, called “Carnation.” In all, he planted fourteen varieties of cherry trees in his vast orchard, along with plum, peach, apple and apricot trees. He also planted numerous carnation cherry trees along various walkways at Monticello, due to their highly fragrant flowers. A sweet and dark variety, especially appreciated to eat fresh. Other varieties he incorporated into his kitchen. (When neighbor George Washington came to visit, were there guards posted at the entrance to the orchard?)

So whatever tops your hit parade, whether it’s sweet or sour, fresh, baked, or in sauce, they’re one of America’s most beloved fruits. Cherries Have a bowl.

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