TRAVERSE CITY — Cherry season is upon us and as early as this weekend you could find local cherries at roadside stands, farm markets and grocery stores.
This versatile little fruit pairs beautifully with savory and sweet recipes and it’s good for you, too. If you’re a cherry cuisine neophyte, the first thing you need to know is that there are two different kinds of cherries: tart and sweet.
It’s best to eat sweets out of hand as soon as possible, but they can be stored in the refrigerator seven to 10 days, said Heidi Friske, general manager of Friske Orchards Farm Market near Ellsworth. They’re also delicious in a fruit salad partnered with cantaloupes and grapes and can be frozen or canned for later use.
“They aren’t as fragile as a berry so they keep longer in the refrigerator,” Friske said. “They do need some moisture and need to breath.”
Tarts, also called pie cherries or sour cherries, can be purchased fresh but are generally used canned, frozen, dried or made into a juice concentrate shortly after harvest. They’re baked into pies, crisps and cobblers and cooked into jams and jellies. Dried cherries are perfect for tossing on cereal or into baked goods.
“Fresh tarts are more tender and have a shorter season,” said Friske, whose market sells both fresh tart cherries with pits and frozen pitted cherries, along with an array of cherry pitters.
Cherry goodies at the market range from a sweet cherry jam to dried Balaton cherries coated in dark chocolate. Cherry pies are an iconic favorite and Friske said that the best way to create that perfect pie is to cook the filling first.
“We use the IQF (individually quick frozen) cherries and if you cook, not boil, the filling until it’s clear, you will have the optimal result,” she said.
Chock full of antioxidants, cherries are a good source of fiber, vitamins A and C, calcium and potassium. More and more they have been hailed as an anti-inflammatory.
If you find yourself with a few quarts of cherries this summer and are looking for inspiration, choose from a wide array of cherry cookbooks in local libraries and bookstores. Many of them also contain tips and techniques.
One of the region’s best known is the perennial favorite, “Cherry Home Companion,” by Patty LaNoue Stearns. Released more than a decade ago, the book still inspires cooks with 130 cherry recipes that LaNoue Stearns gleaned from chefs and other sources.
“It’s the complete book of cooking with cherries,” LaNoue Stearns said. “Every meal includes cherries and is very well tested.”
The National Cherry Festival also sells a cookbook with more than 200 pages of recipes collected from the festival’s annual Taste of Cherries event. “Cherry Creations: The Ultimate Cherry Cookbook” includes recipes from chefs and farm-based cooks and is available online at www.cherryfestival.org.
If you’d rather stay out of the kitchen but want to sample some cherry fare, consider a visit to the Cherries Grand Buffet at noon on Friday. The National Cherry Festival event will highlight simple to gourmet ways to incorporate cherries into everyday dishes. The ‘Grand Buffet’ will feature cherry inspired dishes, an array of sweet treats, and cherry lemonade. Tickets are $25 for adults and $20 for kids 12 and under.
You’ll also find a variety of cherries goodies at the ninth annual “Very Cherry Smorgasbord” hosted by the Frankfort United Methodist Women, July 18.
All the entree, salad and dessert dishes incorporate cherries in some form. The menu includes Cherry Barbeque Meatballs, Cherry Chicken Casserole, Ham with Cherry Sauce and Beef Burgundy. Cherry desserts such as pie, brownies and pound cake with cherry sauce, round out the meal.
“One of the most popular dishes is the Cherry Chicken Casserole,” sad LaVonne Ballard, an organizer of the event, which attracts an estimated 200-300 diners each year. “This continues to be a very big hit with people. Some come every year and others come quite a distance.”
The Smorgasbord runs from 5-7 p.m. or until the food runs out. The cost is $12 for adults and $6 for children 4-12. Children 3 and under get in free
Tickets are available at the door of the church, located at 537 Crystal Ave., Frankfort.
Cherry Basil Orzo Pasta
1 c. frozen tart cherries
1 t. minced garlic
1/2 c. dried pitted chopped dates
4 oz.feta cheese
1/2 lb.orzo pasta
1/4 c. fresh basil chiffonade
Salt to taste
Mix together cherries, dates and garlic in a small saucepan on low and heat until dates are rehydrated. Meanwhile boil orzo pasta in salted water for 8-10 minutes. Drain pasta, stir in cherry mixture and feta cheese. Season with salt and garnish with fresh basil. Serves 6-8.
Source: National Cherry Festival
Cherry BBQ Pork
3 lbs. pork tenderloin
Salt and pepper
40 oz. bottle Sweet Baby Ray’s BBQ Sauce
1 c. apple cider vinegar
¾ c. Friske Tart Cherry Concentrate
5 T. hot sauce
½ t. red pepper flakes
1 T. olive oil
1 medium sweet onion, finely sliced
1 red bell pepper, diced
1 yellow bell pepper, diced
½ c. Friske Dried Tart Cherries, chopped
Slice tenderloin into 4 sections. Spray Crockpot with non-stick spray like Pam. Salt and pepper the tenderloin. Cover and cook 9 hours on medium (overnight works best). Drain off liquid. Shred pork and return to Crockpot.
In a medium saucepan, combine BBQ sauce, vinegar, concentrate, hot sauce and red pepper flakes. Stir. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Pour over shredded pork. Turn Crockpot to high heat and cook 1/2 hour.
In a sauté pan, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the onions. Cook for 5 minutes. Add the diced peppers and continue cooking an additional 3 minutes. Add dried cherries. Cook an additional 1 minute.
Warm the Kaiser rolls. Assemble the sandwiches by spooning shredded pork onto bottom of roll. Add the onion/pepper/cherry relish and top with remaining half of roll.
Source: Friske Orchards Farm Market via Betty Renner of Central Lake.