In Utah, the cherry is not only one of the first tree fruits of the summer harvest, but also, as of 1997, the state fruit.
Cherries come in two major types, with several growing varieties within each type. The types are generally referred to as sweet cherries and tart cherries (sometimes referred to as pie cherries), reflecting their major flavor. Most people prefer sweet cherries for eating and drying, tart cherries for preserving, for pie fillings and sauces, and to brine for maraschino cherries (a process which takes several weeks, but creates a lovely finished product that is very different from what is found in most grocery stores).
Cherry varieties range in color from mild pink tart cherries to deep garnet and yellow red sweet cherries, called Rainer cherries. Utah uniquely is the second largest producer of sour cherries in the United States and the fifth largest producer of sweet cherries, the only state to be in the top five for both, according to utah.gov.
Both sweet and tart cherry trees grow well throughout Utah, though tart cherries tend to be more reliable and less prone to frost damage. Trees should be protected from insects early and often require a cross pollinator. Tart cherry trees tend to be smaller and more bush-like with smaller fruit. Sweet cherry trees are taller and make good shade trees as well as production trees, though they can be messy in a yard, due to the fruit and dropped pits. Harvest for both types of cherries generally runs through June and into July depending on the weather.
When it comes to cooking cherries, one of the biggest challenges is removing the hard center pit. Some processing plants offer cherries that have already been pitted or pitted and dried, but when faced with whole raw cherries, there are a few easy methods for pit removal. The most popular method is using a commercial pitter. These devices are available at most stores that sell kitchenware and can be spring-loaded and designed to pit many cherries rapidly, very helpful for those putting up pie filling, or handheld devices for pitting smaller amounts. Alternatively, cherries can be crushed with the flat of a larger butcher knife or a board scraper and the pits removed from the resulting mash. This method is most effective for cherries that will be immediately cooked as it can be messy.
Once pitted, it is not hard to find something to put cherries in, as the flavor is complimentary to recipes throughout the cookbook. They pair well with stronger flavors and are often served with cheese and chocolate. However, there is nothing wrong with eating cherries on their own, as they are high in both dietary fiber and vitamin C and keep well for snacking on at the park or in Utah's back country.
Double Cherry Chocolate Cookies
3/4 cup butter
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup dark brown sugar, packed
2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup chopped sweet cherries
1/2 cup chopped dried cherries
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup wheat flour
3/4 cup baking cocoa
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup vanilla baking chips
1 cup dark chocolate baking chips
Cream butter and sugars in a large mixing bowl until light and fluffy. Add eggs and vanilla and beat well. In a separate bowl, combine flours, cocoa, baking soda and salt; gradually blend into creamed mixture. Fold in baking chips and cherries. Drop by teaspoonfuls onto an ungreased cookie sheet. Bake at 350 degrees for 8-9 minutes. Cookies will puff during baking and flatten as they cool. Remove from cookie sheet and cool completely on a wire rack.
Jana Brown is a freelance writer, wife and mother. She is an excellent cook and cherry fan. She blogs cornabys.wordpress.com.