Plump and juicy, cherries—from sweet to sour, deep red to golden yellow—are one of the best things about summer. Since their season is far too short (depending on where you live, roughly from May to August), now’s the time to enjoy fresh cherries to their fullest, and we mean beyond eating them out of hand, as glorious as that is. Fresh cherries are amazing baked into crumbles, cakes, and, of course, pies. They also provide a splash of sweet-tart flavor to many savory dishes, like our Pork Chops with Cherry Relish. Our recipes and tips here may just lead you down a whole new cherry-loving path.
The cherry tree
If you’re lucky enough to live near a cherry orchard, picking your own is easy. When picking fresh cherries, pull on the stem, not the cherry. That makes for less bruising and longer freshness. When choosing already-picked cherries, look for firm, shiny skins with green stems. While most supermarkets carry Bing (dark red) and Rainier (pink-yellow) cherries, sour cherries (bright red) are harder to find. The quintessential pie cherry, they have a very short season around the middle of June. Look for them at farmers’ markets. Cherries don’t continue to ripen once picked, so always look for deep color—pale cherries aren’t ripe.
In general, sweet cherries lose much of their sweetness and fruitiness when cooked, so we prefer to use them in raw preparations, like our Cherry-Bourbon Fizz or a creamy Cherry Semifreddo. Sour cherries, on the other hand, keep their pucker and brightness when cooked, which is why most cherry pies use sour cherries. Sweet varieties, such as Bing, Rainier, Black Russian, or Jubilee, are best in fruit salads, sorbets, ice creams, smoothies, and salsas. Sour cherries, such as Morello or Richmond, are perfect for pies, tarts, and chutneys. Try them in savory dishes as well, like our Sour Cherry Persian Rice.
Cherries in the bank
If you aren’t planning to eat cherries the day you buy them, store them in the fridge in a plastic bag or sealed container with a paper towel to absorb excess moisture. They’ll last for five to seven days. If you can’t consume or use cherries in that time frame, remember that they freeze well. First, wash the cherries with their stems on. Then dry and pit them. Next, lay a sheet of parchment or waxed paper on a large rimmed baking sheet or tray that will fit in your freezer. Arrange a single layer of cherries on the baking sheet. Put in the freezer until the cherries are frozen solid, at least 2 hours. Store the cherries in a freezer-safe resealable container; freezer-weight zip-top bags are great for this job. Frozen cherries are good for up to a year.
One of our favorite ways to preserve the fresh flavor of cherries is to make a cordial. Purée pitted cherries in a blender, cover with vodka, and soak for a week. Strain and add simple syrup to taste. The cordial has an intense cherry flavor and is great served in small amounts over ice with a squeeze of lemon. Or try it with a splash of whiskey or bourbon, or topped with chilled Prosecco or another type of bubbly.
We also like making cherry syrup, which has two great uses: The syrup goes in drinks, and the cherries are used for garnish. Bring pitted cherries to a simmer with sugar (about 1 cup per lb.) and a little bourbon, and cook gently until the sugar is dissolved and the liquid is syrupy, about 10 minutes. You want the cherries to be tender but whole. Cool the cherries in the syrup, then store them in the syrup in the fridge. They will keep for at least a month.