Nutrition: Cherries contain about 4 calories each. One cup equals 90 calories. About 80 cherries equals 1 pound or 3 cups. Cherries are loaded with fiber, vitamins A, B and C and lots of minerals, particularly calcium, iron and potassium. They’re considered a powerful source of anti-aging antioxidants.
Selection: Cherries don’t ripen off the tree, so choose ripe fruit. Ripe, sweet cherries should look shiny, clean, bright and plump with no blemishes. They should feel firm but not hard. Cherries with their stems attached have a longer shelf life. For most varieties, the darker the fruit, the sweeter the cherry.
Avoid cherries that look bruised, cut or mushy. Also skip cherries with dried or stale stems; that’s a sign the cherries have been off the tree too long.
Storage: Keep fresh cherries unwashed in a covered plastic container in the coldest part of the refrigerator; they’ll keep at least a week. Discard any that are bruised or show signs of decay.
Freezing: Cherries may be frozen with or without pits. Cherries frozen with pits tend to take on an almond flavor. Take off the stems, wash and pat dry. Arrange the cherries in a single layer on a cookie sheet with enough room between each cherry that they don’t touch. Freeze until solid. Place the cherries in a freezer bag. Store up to 10 months. They can be eaten when completely or partially frozen.
Add frozen pitted cherries to baked goods or other cooked recipes, but don’t defrost first. That retains all the juice.
Preparation: Wash and pit (if desired) just before using. If eating fresh, remove cherries from the refrigerator a few hours before consumption. Bringing the fruit to room temperature intensifies its flavor.
Pitting cherries: Wear an apron or protective clothing; the juice can go everywhere. Use a paring knife to cut the cherry in half, then poke out the pit. Mechanized cherry pitters are available at hardware and cookware stores.
Or try this method: Place the cherry on top of an empty wine bottle. While holding the bottle with one hand, poke the pit through with a wooden chopstick. The pit falls into the bottle.
Cherry stains: Caught red-handed after pitting cherries? For stained hands, cut a lemon in half and squeeze over your hands, then rub together. This will remove the stains. For stained clothing, treat with OxyClean or a similar product, then wash in cold water. The stains should come out.
Don’t eat the leaves: Cherry leaves are toxic and should be avoided.
Pick your own: Find pick-your-own cherry farms throughout Northern California at www.pickyourown.org. Several dot Sacramento, Placer, El Dorado and Yuba counties.
Cherry farm tours: Grower Deborah Olson of C.J. Olson Cherries, 348 W. El Camino Real in Sunnyvale, will conduct free farm tours and cherry tastings at her farm at 10:30 a.m. Saturdays, May 27 and June 3. www.cjolsoncherries.com, 800-738-2464.
More cherry tips: www.calcherry.com.