The sweet ones are the flavoring in Danish cherry brandy and the succulent surprise in sauces and chocolates. Cherry pits have an almond flavor often emphasized in baking.
The thin-skinned, juicy sour ones are one of the few fruits left that are not available year-round. The season is short: just a few weeks in June and early July. And the time is now. Over the next few weeks, sour cherry trees will be heavy with the bright red fruit.
Don’t confuse the sour variety with the sweet. While sweet cherries are best eaten raw, sour cherries usually need to be cooked before eating. Unless you are using presweetened dried sour cherries, plan on cooking them. Unlike the sweet varieties, which lose flavor when cooked, the sour cherry comes into its full flavor after it has been heated. This characteristic makes sour cherries almost always a better choice in any dish calling for cooked cherries.
Fresh sour cherries are a common ingredient in Eastern European and Middle Eastern cooking. In the United States, sour cherries are usually made into pie filling or sweetened and dried.
HOW TO SELECT AND STORE: Look for firm, shiny, plump cherries with no leakage and a strong color. (Since cherries are generally sold loose, it’s worth picking through the pile or cartons.) Fresh green, pliable stems — as opposed to dry, brown stiff ones — are a good sign, indicating that the fruit is freshly picked.
And if you’re worried about family or friends biting into those pits, keep on those stems as a reminder.
Once ripe, cherries are very perishable; Refrigerate them as soon as you get them home. But before eating them (within a day or two), rinse them quickly in cold water.
FREEZING: The easiest way to store the cherries is in the freezer. Pit first, then spread the cherries out on a baking sheet lined with waxed paper or parchment paper. Place the sheet in the freezer. Once the cherries are frozen, transfer them to plastic freezer bags. If you want the cherries presweetened, before freezing, place them in a freezer container and sprinkle them with sugar. Let sit until a light syrup forms, then freeze in the container.
COOKING: Sour cherries make wonderful cobblers, pies, tarts and cakes. They are particularly good made into sweet fillings for crepes. And sour cherries pair well with soft cheese, both in fillings and cheesecakes. Made into a preserve or jam, sour cherries have few equals. Spoon over pancakes or French toast, spread over toast or pound cake or stir into tea.
Make quick sauces for pork and chicken by cooking sour cherries with a little sugar or honey, adding salt, pepper and a dash of vinegar or wine. Or cook into a savory compote with sweet onions. Persian recipes call for cooking stews of lamb or chicken and rice pilafs with sour cherries; just add a handful.
Here are 10 of our favorite ways to use cherries, from the Recipe Finder:
Cherry Lattice Pie. A classic from Rose Levy Beranbaum.
Cherry Sauce. Enhanced with a bit of creme de cassis.
Cherry Soup. Sweet or sour cherries can be used for this chilled Hungarian first course.
Goat Chops With Cherries, Bourbon and Cream. Luscious, yet relatively low-fat.
Smoky Cherry, Apricot and Fig Pie. You’ll need to pit a full pound of sweet cherries for this dessert done on the grill.
Summer Pudding. The best use we can think of for white bread; the recipe comes from the Hunter’s Head Tavern in Upperville.
Turkey Sandwiches With Smoked Gouda, Pickled Red Onion and Cherries. A surprising flavor combination; great for holiday picnics.
Sweet Cherry Cobbler With Chocolate Truffle Crust. Spiked with Grand Marnier; when this is bubbling and warm out of the oven, all it needs is a scoop of ice cream on the side.
Preserved Cherries. More complex than maraschino cherries; excellent for cocktails