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Cherry Season Is Here; Enjoy Them While You Can

By Mary Carroll Los Angeles Times Service

Among all the fresh fruits of summer, the most celebrated in our household are cherries.

I remember picking cherries near my home in Oregon back in the ‘70s. The trees were almost top-heavy with the lush fruit, and we ate as we picked, going home with bright red lips and fingers, stained from the juice. We froze the excess cherries on baking sheets after pitting them, then packed them into plastic self-sealing bags. Of course, plenty were made into pies, cobblers, compotes and sauces.

America’s love of cherries started with the early New Englanders, who learned how to make pemmican from wild cherries and dried meat. Pioneers on the Oregon Trail carried cherry trees to Oregon in the mid-1800s, and orchards began near Portland. By 1875, the Bing cherry - incredibly sweet and juicy - was developed there.

When buying cherries, choose firm, smooth and plump fruit with bright color and without cracks. Store them in plastic bags in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks or freeze them for up to 12 months. One pound of fresh cherries equals about 3 cups.

Cherry Cobbler

Cobbler (along with its relations, Grunt and Crisp) is a favorite summer dessert when cherries are ripe. You can enjoy this recipe year-round with frozen, pitted, unsweetened cherries found in freezer bags.

2 cups pitted cherries

6 cups peeled and thinly sliced tart apples, such as Granny Smith

1 tablespoon lemon juice

3/4 cup apple juice

1 tablespoon arrowroot powder or cornstarch

1/2 cup brown sugar, packed

3/4 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

3 tablespoons yellow cornmeal

1/2 cup old-fashioned rolled oats

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Place cherries, apples, lemon juice, 1/2 cup apple juice, arrowroot and brown sugar in saucepan. Bring to boil over medium-high heat. Reduce heat and cook, stirring frequently, until apples begin to soften, 5 to 10 minutes.

Combine flour, nutmeg, remaining 1/4 cup apple juice, cornmeal, oats and vanilla in large bowl.

Place apple mixture in lightly oiled 9- by 13-inch baking dish. Sprinkle flour mixture on top. Bake at 350 degrees 20 minutes or until lightly browned.

Yield: 6 to 8 servings.

Nutrition information per each of six servings: 249 calories, 1.3 grams fat (5 percent fat calories), 4 grams protein, 58 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 75 milligrams sodium.

Fresh Summer Fruit Compote

This peach, blueberry and cherry compote is a favorite, inspired by a long-ago Bon Appetit magazine recipe.

1 tablespoon undiluted frozen orange juice concentrate

3 tablespoons real maple syrup

2 teaspoons lime juice

Grated peel of 1/2 orange

2 cups pitted, halved fresh cherries

2 cups pitted and sliced fresh peaches

1 cup fresh blueberries or sliced fresh strawberries

Fresh mint leaves, optional

Combine orange juice concentrate, maple syrup, lime juice and grated orange peel in medium bowl. Toss with cherries, peaches and strawberries. Let stand 30 minutes before serving. Garnish with fresh mint.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 130 calories, 0.6 grams fat (4 percent fat calories), 2 grams protein, 33 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 4 milligrams sodium.

Cherry Sundaes

Cherries make a great sauce to spoon over nonfat frozen yogurt for summer sundaes. This sauce was inspired by a recipe from cookbook author Janie Hibler.

2 cups pitted and finely chopped Bing cherries

1/4 cup honey, brown sugar or real maple syrup

1 cup frozen strawberries, raspberries or blackberries

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

2 tablespoons orange juice

2 to 3 cups nonfat or low-fat vanilla frozen yogurt

1/3 cup crushed amaretti cookies, optional

Place all but 1/3 cup cherries in saucepan with honey, frozen berries, nutmeg and orange juice. Simmer 15 minutes or until fruit is soft. Puree if desired, then stir in reserved cup cherries. Spoon over frozen yogurt and top with crushed cookies.

Yield: 4 servings.

Nutrition information per serving: 178 calories, 0.7 grams fat (4 percent fat calories), 8 grams protein, 38 grams carbohydrate, 2 milligrams cholesterol, 89 milligrams sodium.

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