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The Charm of Cherries

Cherries are believed to have originated in Central Asia, where so many other fruits have their roots. Gradually, they made their way west to modern-day Turkey. Some legends say they were scattered by birds flying from Asia to Europe, and it was there the Romans first got a taste of cherries in the ancient city of Cerasus, which eventually gave the sweet, red fruit its name.

Cherries were introduced to the Americas by the English who brought them to the colonies, and the Spanish who introduced them to California. From there, they’ve spread across the country. The state of Washington is our nation’s largest producer, followed by California and Michigan. In the United States, cherries come into season gradually, first on the West Coast, then the Midwest and, finally, on the East Coast.

Cherries are only available for a brief time each year. Delicate in nature and unable to ripen once they’ve been picked, these tiny stone fruits (they’re related to plums and apricots) must be picked as soon as they are ripe and sold quickly or they’ll deteriorate.

When selecting cherries, look for fruit with unblemished, shiny skin with the stems still attached. Remember, too, the darker the color, the deeper and sweeter the cherries will be. Bing cherries are a deep, almost black, crimson while Rainiers are gold with red blush.

Cherries keep for only two or three days at most, although they freeze quite nicely. Rinse off the cherries, drain well and dry on towels. Spread cherries in a single layer on a cookie sheet; freeze until frozen solid. Put frozen cherries in a sealed zip-tight plastic bag, making sure to squeeze out all excess air; freeze up to a year.

Can anything as sweet as cherries be good for you? They certainly are! Cherries are a rich source of fiber, potassium, vitamin C and antioxidants. Research suggests they may be valuable in the fight against diabetes and still other studies found the fruit to be a potentially even better cure for headaches than aspirin. Ultimately, however, cherries are a high point of summer and something to look forward to for the rest of the year.