There are two kinds of cherries: sweet (the most common kind) and sour (the pie kind).
Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are the most commonly available types of cherries in the United States; with their high sugar content, they are perfect for eating out of hand. One of the most popular varieties of sweet cherry is the Bing.
- Bing cherries range from dark red to almost black. They are firm but juicy, and very sweet when properly ripened.
- Rainier cherries are golden with a pink blush on their skin, and their flesh is yellow to transparent. These cherries have a very sweet and delicate flavor, and like all cherries, they bruise easily.
- Lamberts are heart-shaped beauties with dark red flesh and skin. Their sweet, rich flavor and juicy, meaty flesh make them a favorite for eating fresh as well as for cooking.
- Royal Ann cherries have golden-pink skin and flesh. They are difficult to find fresh; most Royal Anns are used to make maraschino cherries.
These beautiful stone fruits are only at their peak for about a month each summer. So don't hold back, treat yourself to cherries when they're ripe!
Sour cherries (Prunus cerasus, named for the Turkish city of Cerasus) are rarely available fresh; most are immediately processed. Sour cherries are smaller and rounder than sweet ones, and do not keep well once they've been picked.
- Montmorency cherries are the most common variety. They have bright red skin and beige, juicy flesh.
- Morello cherries are more common in Europe. They are dark red and extremely tart, and their blood-red juice is often used for making liqueurs.
When sour cherries are at their peak, most of them are picked and pitted, then immediately frozen, canned, or dried. When buying frozen or canned sour cherries, check the label to see if they have already been sweetened so that you can adjust the amount of sugar in your recipe accordingly.
Cherries don't ripen further once they're picked. They are very delicate fruits, and need to be treated with care.
- Look at the stems of the cherries: those with plump, bendable stems have been picked recently. If the cherry stems are shriveled and brittle, the cherries are older and will be past their prime before long.
- Choose cherries with stems still attached; this helps them maintain their freshness.
- Select cherries with firm, smooth, unblemished skin, and buy only as many as you plan to eat in the next few days.
- Keep them separated from strong-smelling foods, as cherries can absorb odors.
- For best results, store them refrigerated in a plastic bag with holes in it, and don't wash your cherries until you're ready to use them