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My cherry trees are my first trees to harvest each year. We look forward to the first fresh fruit of the season, well after strawberries of course. This year we processed 60 pounds of cherries from one tree. Not only are the little fruits sweet and delicious but they are so good for you.
Health Benefits of Cherries
Cherries are full of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They are a great source of vitamin C, which supports your immune system, potassium, magnesium and even calcium. They contain vitamins A, K and B6.
Cherries are also a good source of antioxidants. Antioxidants help protect and restore your cells which helps protect decrease your risk of chronic diseases. In addition, they also contain anti-inflammatory compounds. Chronic inflammation in your body causes all sorts of health issues from arthritis and asthma to various skin conditions such as psoriasis and rosacea. There are foods, like sugary or processed foods, that increase inflammation while foods high in antioxidants help decrease inflammation in your body. The antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties may also help reduce your risk of heart disease and arthritis and help you sleep better so why would anyone not want to add these sweet treats to their diet.
Ways to Enjoy cherries
Eat them Fresh
Of course, the best way to get all the nutrition and great benefits from cherries is to eat them fresh. The fresher the better so having a tree or going to pick them your self is optimal, but they are readily available in the spring. Just look to be sure they are a nice bright color and there is no bruising or mold. Cherries do not last very long so keeping them in a breathable bag in the refrigerator and rinsing them just prior to eating will help keep them a bit longer.
We eat them while we pick them but honestly, I was so focused on getting them processed that I almost forgot to set aside a large bowl just for fresh eating. Luckily, I realized my mistake and we picked out a large bowl of the nicest looking ones for to eat over the next week. Once the big job of processing was done, I was able to sit down and enjoy a treat as a reminder of why we are doing all this.
For most ways to enjoy cherries having a cherry pitter is extremely handy. You can pit cherries by hand without a pitter but once you have used a cherry pitter you will realize the time and effort and mess you save with a fairly inexpensive device. The first year we pitted most of our cherries by hand, cutting them in a half and popping out the seeds. I have heard that you can use a toothpick or straw to pit cherries but I have not tried those methods. I bought this cherry pitter and have never looked back. The kids and I will take turns pulling the stems, washing and pitting cherries and we can get a really efficient process going. It misses a pit here or there, so you do have to keep an eye on what you are doing but we were able to get through about 40 pounds in a couple of hours, from start to finish.
I like to pit and freeze most of ours. My kids love to snack on frozen “cherry bonbons” throughout the year. This is a very easy way to preserve them. We pick pounds at a time and then will pull all the stems off, give them a good rinse and put them through the cherry pitter. I have a bunch of cookie sheets that I line with parchment paper. The pitted cherries get placed in a single layer on the cookie sheets and put into the freezer overnight. This will allow you to freeze them individually rather than in a giant clump. Then you can transfer them into freezer bags or vacuum seal bags and put them back in the freezer for longer term storage.
We also enjoy dehydrating a portion of our fruit each year. Dried cherries are a great snack. After pitting, I fill my dehydrator and put the rest in the freezer. They turn out similar to raisins and you can snack on them plain or give them a quick chop and put them in backed goods.
You can also make fruit leather by pureeing the cherries and then spreading the pulp in a thin layer and baking it at a very low temperature. I have also tried cooking the pulp first and then baking. Many recipes call for added sugar but I find that the fruit sweetens up as you dry it and I do not add sugar, but taste your fruit and decide if you want it sweeter.
While most canned cherries at the store are created for pie filling and contain a ton of sugar, you can can your own and have more control over what is in your final product. You can make a low sugar jam or can your own pie filling. You can even make your own home made Maraschino cherries, without all the added coloring and artificial ingredients. I have not played with canning cherries much yet but do have some set aside in the freezer to make pie filling, once it is not so hot here. As with all canning, you need to make sure you are following proper guidelines for food safety and using recipes that have been approved for their safety.
Cherry season comes and goes so quickly each year. What is your favorite way to add these little bundles of nutrition to your diet?