A few weeks ago, I received an email that excited my whole family, “Cherries were ready to be picked!” The professional pickers had already been through a friend’s orchard, and she was generously inviting us to show up with bags in hand, sunscreen applied and our heads fitted with hats, to provide a bit of personal shade. We were amazed by how wonderful the cherries were this year, amazingly sweet and perfectly firm! We lugged our filled bags home an hour or so later, ready to clean, pit and freeze our bounty! Ripe cherries are one of the foods that make me pause to appreciate the gifts that nature offers, with a flavor experience that blows the doors off any processed sweet treat on the market!
Once picked, cherries do not continue to ripen, so it is best to choose cherries that are ready to enjoy; rich in color, shiny and plump, with a firmly attached, green stem. Stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, fresh cherries can last for a few days up to a week or so. Check the container each day for any spoiled fruit, and wait until just before serving to rinse in cold water and pat dry.
While fresh cherries are downright delicious as is, they can also be incorporated into a variety of recipes. If you have more cherries than you will be able to eat within a few days, it probably makes sense to pit and freeze them. Those frozen cherries can be used later, in fruit salad, incorporated into smoothies, baked into homemade oat bars or a crisp, or even added to hot or cold cereal in the morning. You can also make chocolate cherry ice cream in the food processor with a splash of soy milk or almond milk and few spoons of cocoa powder. Once pitted, they can be dried in a dehydrator and enjoyed in a DIY trail mix or granola.
In addition to an impressive line up of minerals, including potassium, iron, zinc, copper, calcium and manganese, cherries provide a healthy dose of vitamins A, C, E, K, B1, B2, B3, B6 and folate. Cherries are very rich in color, and those pigments are phytonutrients packed with antioxidant potential. The anthocyanins can reduce inflammation, heart disease risk (by targeting free radicals) and have even been shown to reduce pain associated with gout, fibromyalgia and sports-related injuries. Cherries also provide other classes of phytonutrients, including melatonin, which can calm our nervous system and help improve insomnia and headaches, as well as lutein, zea-xanthin and beta-carotene, known for their role in cancer prevention and graceful aging. All of this goodness, in one of the sweetest packages around, for just under 100 kcalories per cup! Perhaps you can forgo the 100 kcalorie snack pack of cookies, since you only get a 1/2 to 3/4 ounce serving of heavily processed ingredients, and opt for whole cup, or ~20 delectable cherries, weighing in at 7-10 times the amount!
After a long run a few weeks ago, I created a fruit salad that was so delicious, I had to share it! Don’t be fooled by the simplicity, as this is a wonderful example of synergism at work. Each component compliments the others and they culminate in a flavor and texture party! These dynamic whole foods will fuel your body and protect your cells, all while satisfying your sweet tooth!
The Nutrition Professor’s Cherry and Orange Sweet Treat
4 oranges, peeled and diced small, keep as much juice as possible in the bowl
1 cup of cherries, pitted and diced (fresh or frozen)
1/4 cup walnuts, raw or lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
Combine the orange and cherries in a large bowl. If you can stand it, wait a few minutes before eating to let flavors merry. Mix in the walnuts just before serving and savor every bite! Store any leftovers in the fridge.
Nutrition Info (for 1/4 of recipe) – 134 kcalories, 5 g fat, 23 g carbohydrate, 4 g fiber, 3 g protein, 16 mcg Vit A, 48 mcg folate, 355 mg potassium, 0 mg of sodium, 65 mg calcium, 29 mg of magnesium
Timaree Hagenburger, is a registered dietitian and certified health fitness specialist with a master’s degree in public health. She is a nutrition professor at Cosumnes River College, does corporate wellness work, as well as professional speaking engagements and teaches hands-on cooking/nutrition classes.
Read my article as published in Lodi News Sentinel on June 4, 2013.