Celebrate Sweet Cherries

The season is short for fresh, sweet cherries, so enjoy them in both sweet and savory recipes while you can
Fresh Bing Cherries

Photo y Ян Заболотний Adobe

Since it’s summertime, that means fresh cherries are in season, so get them while you can—and celebrate National Cherry Day July 16 while you’re at it! The season for fresh sweet cherries, which are primarily grown in the Pacific Coast states, runs May through August, so time is of the essence.

Distant cousins of plums, there are two main groups of cherries—sweet and sour. Sweet cherries, the larger of the two, are firm and somewhat heart shaped. The most familiar and popular type of sweet cherry is Bing, which is a dark red to purplish-black color when ripe. Another popular sweet cherry, Rainier, is a golden yellow color with a red blush. The sour or tart cherries are smaller, softer, and more rounded and are not usually eaten out of hand but excellent in desserts, used to make jellies, and are dried and frozen to enjoy year-round. Michigan grows 70% of the U.S. supply of tart cherries, but also produces some sweet, fresh varieties in the summer.

If young George Washington had known how good cherries are for you, he might have thought twice before allegedly sinking his hatchet into that cherry tree. Cherries are thought to reduce inflammation, prevent muscle damage, and might help fight cardiovascular disease. Cherries are one of the few food sources known to contain melatonin, an antioxidant that helps regulate biorhythm and natural sleep patterns. They also contain a healthy dose of vitamin C and fiber. You get all these potential health benefits, and one cup (with pits) of fresh sweet cherries contains only about 90 calories.

They are naturally great in fruit salad, especially paired with melons and pineapple. Slice fresh cherries into chicken pasta salad or a lettuce salad—add Gorgonzola cheese for a delicious combination. For a cool summer dessert, dip sweet cherries in chocolate sauce, freeze on wax paper, and lightly defrost to serve. Plus, check out these recipes courtesy of Northwest Cherries to enjoy them in even more delicious ways.

Sweet Cherry Cheesecake

Sweet Cherry Cheesecake

Makes 4 Servings

Enjoy the taste of cherry cheesecake in these easy-to-make single servings.

For the Crust
4¾ ounces (about 2 cups or 10 full crackers) graham crackers, crushed
1¾ ounces (3½ tablespoons) melted butter

For the Filling
½ cup whipping cream
1 cup vanilla Greek yogurt
¼ cup cream cheese, at room temp
2 tablespoons powdered sugar
2 cups fresh Northwest sweet cherries, pitted and halved

  1. Mix the graham crumbs and melted butter. Spoon some crumbs into each glass and press firmly with the back of a spoon or fingertips.
  2. Put the glasses in the refrigerator while the rest of the cheesecake is prepared.
  3. For the filling, whip the cream. In a separate bowl, mix yogurt, cream cheese, and powdered sugar. Add the mixture to the whipped cream.
  4. Pour this mixture on the cookie crust, level it, and put the glasses in the fridge to set for at least 1 hour.
  5. When ready to serve, top with the cherries.
Cherry Balsamic Sauce

Photo FomaA / Adobe

Cherry Balsamic Sauce

Makes about 1/3 cup marinade plus 4 servings sauce

The sweet flavor of cherries combines with savory ingredients for a delicious marinade and serving sauce to complement chicken, pork, or fish.

1 cup balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons olive oil
½ cup Northwest cherries, pitted and chopped
1 cup Northwest cherries, divided (½ cup pitted and chopped; ½ cup pitted and halved)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons chopped fresh sage
1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary
1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme
½ teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground pepper

  1. Mix vinegar and olive oil; simmer over low heat and reduce mixture to ½ cup.
  2. Add the ½ cup chopped cherries, mustard, sugar, herbs, salt, and pepper. Simmer 10 minutes.
  3. Reserve half of sauce for marinade.
  4. Add the ½ cup halved cherries to remaining sauce. Return mixture to a boil and simmer about 1 minute.
  5. Serve with grilled meat, poultry, or fish.
Cherry Blondies

Sweet Cherry Blondies

Makes 16 Servings

These easy treats will be the hit of any get-together—or any day!

1 1/3 cups flour
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup vegetable oil
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract or almond extract
1 cup Northwest cherries, pitted and halved
½ cup chopped pecans

  1. Oil and flour a 9-inch baking pan and set aside. Heat oven to 325°F.
  2. Combine flour, brown sugar, baking powder, salt, oil, eggs, and vanilla (or almond) extract. Mix on low speed of electric mixer until blended. Mix 1 minute on medium speed. Batter will be thick.
  3. Spread half of batter in prepared pan.
  4. Toss cherries in small amount of flour. Scatter cherries over batter; spread remaining batter over cherries. Sprinkle pecans over top.
  5. Bake in preheated oven 30 to 35 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted near center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into 16 pieces.

Variation: Sprinkle ½ cup chocolate chips over batter with pecans and proceed with recipe.

Hungry for More?

Cherry and Chocolate Truffle Tart Recipe

Take advantage of the short but sweet cherry season with a luscious cherry and chocolate treat

Recipes: Savory Summer Stone Fruit Salsa and Cherry Relish

Turn summer’s bounty into sweet and spicy sauces with recipes for Summer Stone Fruit Salsa with Fresh Corn and Basil and an Ancho Cherry Relish

When you’re at the Minnesota State Fair later this summer, you can enjoy cherries in the “Cheers for Cherries” malt, which has been selected as the signature malt flavor in the Dairy Goodness Bar.

Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.