You may have read, a few weeks back, when I listed cherries as one of the miracle foods because of their medicinal effects with gout and in lowering blood sugar levels in diabetics. I mentioned that my dad freezes Bing cherries in pint boxfuls when they’re in season (in early June) and eats a few, maybe not daily, but often, for their healthful properties. I’m not sure how much difference they make in the way he feels, but, at 88, it’s good that he tries whatever he can without prescription drugs.
Fresh cherries should be clean, bright, shiny, and plump with no blemishes. Sweet cherries should have firm, but not hard flesh, while sour cherries should be medium-firm. Avoid cherries with cuts, bruises, or stale, dry stems. Stemmed cherries may be less expensive, but be aware that cherries with the stems intact will have a longer shelf life.
Allow one cup serving of sweet cherries per person when calculating quantities, less for sour cherries.
Cherry stems have long been recognized as having diuretic properties and they are found in prescriptions dating back to the Middle Ages. They contain malic and tartaric acids.
Cherry bark infusions were used to treat colds and flu, while the fruit and juice were considered to be an effective remedy for gout, aches and arthritis. Modern research has shown that cherries actually do contain natural anti-inflammatory agents.
In recent years, cherries have been found to act as both detoxifier and diuretic. Cherry stems have the effect of increasing urine output. An infusion of the stems can be made by boiling the stems in water to make a tea (see www.theworldwidegourmet.com/products/articles/cherry-medicinal-properties/ ).
Store unwashed cherries in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and wash just before eating. Before eating fresh sweet cherries, leave them out on the counter for a few hours as the flavor is much better at room temperature. Fresh cherries should be consumed within two to four days.
Unopened canned cherries can be stored on the shelf up to a year. Once opened, keep the canned cherries in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within one week. Maraschino cherries will last six to twelve months in the refrigerator. Unopened dried cherries will last up to 18 months.
You can freeze fresh cherries, but they should be pitted first, otherwise they will take on an almond flavor from the pit. Beware the juice when pitting cherries, as it will stain clothing.
Freeze whole, pitted sweet cherries in 40 percent syrup (4 cups water plus 3 cups sugar) with 1/2 teaspoon ascorbic acid (or citrus juice) added per quart of liquid.
They may also be pitted and frozen without liquid in plastic bags with all the air removed. Some cooks prefer to freeze separated cherries on a cookie sheet and then pack in bags for freezing.
To freeze sour cherries for pie filling, stir 3/4 cup of sugar into each quart of pitted, whole sour cherries. Pack in rigid airtight containers with 1/2-inch headspace or airtight bags. Frozen cherries will last ten to twelve months in the freezer.
February is National Cherry Month. It’s a good time to remember the original George W’s birthday, his story about the cherry tree, and enjoy some cherries.