We are full swing in the Washington state cherry season, a sure harbinger of summer if the weather and the longest day of the year isn't quite telling enough. Given that I am writing this in a turtleneck and sweater, the weather swaying back and forth from cold and rainy to blue skies and sunny so much that I need reminders at the grocery store that summer is here. Cherries work for me as there is no better summer fruit representative of the wonderful bounties of the season in Washington state.
There is a native New World wild cherry species, the chokecherry, that is apparently quite bitter and nutritious, but the sweet cherries we eat now originally came from Asia. They are an Old World fruit tree that was brought to this country by French settlers and then eventually to the Northwest by Henderson Luelling in a wagon along the Oregon trail. His persistence and bullheadedness, hauling a wagon full of 700 trees over 1500 miles to start an orchard, resulted in the Bing cherry and Lambert cherry varieties, the Northwest's dominance in cherry production, and our delight in eating fresh, local cherries in the summer. I can only imagine the sheer audacity and determination that kept him and his family from abandoning those trees along the way between Iowa and Oregon.
Cherries are best as fresh as possible. Look for firm, plump cherries with green flexible stems. Eat them as soon as possible as they don't store well and then go back to the grocery store for more fresh cherries! The season is always shorter than we want. With four cherry eaters in the house, we pick up a couple of bags of cherries every trip to the grocery store and then often run out within a day. Cherry pits are all over the compost and yard!
Cherries are nutritious - they contain an abundance of nutrients, notably fiber, Vitamin C, boron, potassium, carotenoids, quercetin, and perhaps where they shine the most, proanthocyanidins. These compounds have anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that have been associated with reduction in pain associated with arthritis, in particular gout, and sport-related muscle soreness. Cherries also contain melatonin, a compound which helps us sleep better, likely the best remedy for our over-exertions and resulting muscle soreness. The phytonutrients in cherries are also associated with decreased risk in cancers and Alzheimers. But the bottom line is cherries are delicious and nutritious, their season relatively short so enjoy them as much as you can while you can.