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All the world is nuts about

    What's in The Nut Gourmet

The Nutty Gourmet

Vegetarians in Paradise
On the Highest Perch

Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries

Cherries at a Glance

History Uses Name Origin Folklore/Oddities Medical Benefits
Growing Nutrition Purchasing Preparation Recipes

Songwriters Lew Brown and Ray Henderson had the right idea about life when they created the song "Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries." The song, recorded in 1931 during the height of the depression, is actually timeless. The lyrics express the message that the pleasure derived from a bowl of cherries only lasts for a moment in time and ought to be cherished.

Life is just a bowl of cherries.
Don't take it serious; it's too mysterious.
You work, you save, you worry so,
But you can't take your dough when you go, go, go.

So keep repeating it's the berries,
The strongest oak must fall,
The sweet things in life, to you were just loaned
So how can you lose what you've never owned?
Life is just a bowl of cherries,
So live and laugh at it all.

Author Erma Bombeck, on the other hand, had a rather dour view of life when she quipped, "If life is a bowl of cherries, what am I doing in the pits?"

Sweet cherries are closely related to the wild cherries that were indigenous in the region of the Caucasus Mountains that lie between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea. The southern portion, now Azerbaijian, as well as northern Turkey and Iran, were also home to the sweet cherry.

The sour cherry is thought to be a hybrid between the sweet cherry and a wild shrub called ground cherry that grew in the eastern and central portion of Europe.

The Chinese warrior-farmers that lived the northwestern highlands of Shensi in 600 BCE feasted on cherries and plums as their summer dessert. Usually it is royalty or the wealthy who can afford to feast on specialty foods. Because these country peasants lived in a region where cherries grew wild, they had more access to them than did the wealthier aristocrats dwelling further south.

During the early Islamic era, about 600 to 900 CE, Iraq was known for its abundant fruit orchards that included cherries, pomegranates, plums, figs, apples, and pears. These fruits were often traded for other foods and spices via caravan merchants.

Greek writer Theophrastus describes the sweet cherry in his writings about 300 BCE, but Oxford historians write that both sweet and sour cherries were being cultivated well before that time. Credit for fruit and vegetable cultivation is often attributed to the Greeks. Cherry cultivation is no exception, though wild cherries were in abundance long before the horticulturists took an interest in enhancing them.

Pliny the Elder, Greek author of Natural History, a compendium of natural sciences written in the 1st century CE, describes eight different varieties of cherries cultivated in Italy, and notes that the Romans did much to spread cherry cultivation as far west and north as Britain. Cherries were already familiar fruits in France during Pliny's era.

Cherry cultivation was eagerly supported in European monastery gardens during the medieval era.

With the Norman invasion of England, in 1066, fruits such as cherries, peaches, gooseberries, plums, and quinces, were introduced to the British. However, it wasn't until the 16th century that serious cherry growing took hold in Kent, England and in Germany.

When the colonists began journeying to the New World in the 17th century, about two dozen different varieties of cherries had been developed by the English who then brought these enticingly sweet fruits to New England.

As French settlers from Normandy arrived in the Midwest in cities like Detroit, they planted cherry pits that they brought to the New World. Soon cherry trees held a prominent place in their gardens along the Saint Lawrence River and the Great Lakes area.

During the late 1700's and throughout the 1800's European explorers traversed the plains, mountains, and deserts of North America on foot. The Native Americans taught them to carry only foods that were light in weight, yet highly nutritious. Wild cherries, known as chokecherries, along with pemmican were packed into rawhide sacks to sustain the explorers for their long journeys.

The chokecherry was growing in North America long before the Europeans arrived and was used for food and medicine by the Native Americans. The wild chokecherry eventually became an important ingredient in the famous Smith Brothers cough drops. Originally the Native Americans used them for cough medicine.

The first thought of cherry production began with a Presbyterian minister named Peter Dougherty who planted a number of trees near Old Traverse City in Michigan in the mid 1800's. Though Dougherty was told the trees would not do well there, the trees thrived and brought Ridgewood Farm, a serious grower, to the area to create the first commercial sour cherry orchard in 1893. The area surrounding Traverse City as well as along Lake Michigan was home to a firmly established cherry industry by the early 1900's.

Traverse City Canning Company, established around the turn of the century, was the first cherry processing plant to set up business. Chicago, Detroit, and Milwaukee were the initial cities to receive shipments of canned cherries from this company.

Today, Traverse City carries its special distinction as the Cherry Capital of the World and produces 40 percent of the sour cherries in the United States. To this day, cherry trees still line the Lake Michigan coast and burst forth with a dazzling show of white blossoms in May. In 1924 Traverse City hosted the first National Cherry Festival, a spring ceremony that celebrated the beautiful white cherry blossoms. The city continues to be the site of an annual celebration that attracts thousands of visitors during cherry harvest in July.

About the same time that sour cherries were established as a production crop in Michigan, sweet cherry orchards were flourishing in Willamette Valley near Salem, Oregon. Henderson Lewelling loaded root stock onto oxen in Iowa to start his plantings of Bing cherries in Oregon. The sweet Lambert variety was also developed on Lewelling's Farm.

Of all the varieties of sweet cherries grown in the United States, the Bing is most well known. The sweet succulent Bing cherry was named after a Chinese worker who was part of Henderson Lewelling's farm crew in western Oregon during the 1870's and 80's.

In 1876 Lewelling proudly exhibited his Bing cherries at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia. The cherries were so large people mistook them for crabapples. They sold for the grand price of three cents a cherry. Cherries

In 1928 Royal Anne cherries were sold to Salem canning companies for five to seven cents a pound. Today, Bing, Lambert, Royal Anne, and Ranier are the three major varieties of sweet cherries grown in the United States and are sold at considerably higher prices.

Cherry Trees in Japan
The Japanese cherry trees were grown, not for their fruits, but only for their beautiful blossoms. These trees, which seldom bear fruit, occasionally do produce fruits that are so distasteful no one cares to eat them.

In 1910 the mayor of Tokyo presented a gift of cherry trees to the city of Washington, D.C. Unfortunately, they were badly infested with insects and had to be burned. Two years later, the superintendent of grounds imported a second shipment from Toyko. This time the trees were only slightly infested with the Oriental fruit moth. Though the capitol boasts its beautiful white cherry blossoms in the spring, it has a price to pay. The cherry fruit moth also fancies peach trees as well and continues to cause problems to neighboring farms today.

Naming the Cherry
The Latin scientific name, cerasus, identifies the cherry family. The derivation is traced back to Greece where it was named kerasos. Some believe this name came from an ancient city of that name in Asia Minor, now Turkey, while others speculate the city came by its name from the abundance of cherries that grew there.

Cherry Folklore
Fiction can sometimes become truth when it is told by a highly respected source. The case in point--George Washington and the famous cherry tree quote "Father, I can not tell a lie; I cut the tree."

In 1800 a parson named Mason Locke Weems wrote A History of the Life and Death, Virtues and Exploits, of General George Washington. In his effort to lend color to Washington's rather dull and uninteresting life story, Weems fabricated the myth about the childhood George Washington cutting down his father's favorite cherry tree and then admitting to having done it. The tale holds such moral strength, that parents and teachers perpetuated the myth to their children and classrooms ever since it appeared in print.

Cherry Cuisine
Sour cherries may find their way to the table inside a lattice-top piecrust, as a dried fruit, fresh or frozen juice, in a chunky jam, as a canned or frozen product, and even as a highly appreciated distilled liqueur called Kirsch.

Sweet cherries are an exceptional dessert fruit enjoyed fresh off the tree without cooking or processing of any sort. Yet, they are also cooked and end up in the same products as sour cherries.

Cherries have played a prominent role in the liquor industry for well over 100 years. Three liqueurs, maraschino, kirsch, and ratafia, were distilled from the cherry.

Today maraschino cherries are cooked in syrup and artificially flavored and colored with a red dye. However, they were originally derived from the marasca, a small, black, bitter wild cherry that grew in Dalmatia, the capital of Croatia. They were used in preparing maraschino, a sweet liqueur or cordial made from fermented marasca juice and cherry stones that are crushed to extract their almond flavor. The mixture is fermented first, then distilled. This delicacy was imported into the United States during the 1890's and earned its elite reputation at the finest hotels and restaurants.

With their ultimate creativity, U.S. cherry processors discovered they could produce their own, less expensive version of maraschino cherries. In 1896 they substituted Royal Ann cherries for the marasca, and almond oil for the cherry stones. Creating this new version of maraschino cherry, they entered the market earning sales that surpassed the original European version.

Today maraschino cherries are alive and well, embellishing tropical drinks such as Mai Tai and Pina Colada. Maraschino cherries also provide the bright pink accents in canned fruit cocktail.

Kirschwasser, most often called Kirsch, is a prized liqueur that originated in Germany. Surprisingly colorless, it is made from the distilled juice of black cherries and crushed cherry stones.

Ratafia, of French Creole origin, is made by soaking ripe cherries in alcohol for several days, after which a sugar syrup is added to encourage fermentation.

Apicius, Rome's first cookbook author, gives the following directions for preserving cherries: Gather them carefully with their stalks and put them in honey, so that they do not touch each other.

Sour cherries paired with meat are popular in Persian cuisine. When not in season, dried sour cherries are used in place of the fresh.

In many Hungarian homes, cold sour cherry soup is a popular summer treat, as is black cherry jam, and cherry strudel.

You may have experienced the succulently sweet chocolate covered cherries, a French creation called griottes that also includes kirsch encased in the chocolate.

Fresh or canned cherries have their special place as an important ingredient in German Black Forest Cake along with kirsch.

Cherries Jubilee, a dessert that was popular in the 50's and 60's, begins with sweet canned cherries that are flamed with brandy. Kirsch is also added to create a rich sauce served over vanilla ice cream.

A few weeks before the Thanksgiving and Christmas season, glace cherries appear on the market shelves for making fruitcakes. These are made by preparing a thin syrup used to glaze the fruit.

Cherries Sometime during the early 1800's, Korean Buddhist monks developed delicious hot tea made from a variety of fruits including cherries. The monks were the first to adopt the tradition of drinking green tea introduced to them by the Chinese about the 7th century. Later they created teas from many grains, seeds, herbs and fruits.

Cherry Cheesecake, considered the ultimate dessert by many Americans, consists of a blanket of bright red glazed cherries as a topping to this classic dessert.

Medicinal Uses of Cherries
Europeans of the 15th and 16th centuries did not visit HMO's to cure their ills. Instead, each household kept a "confection box," a term derived from the words comfit, (a sweetmeat,) and confect (prepare by combining). The box contained seeds, spices, and herbs mixed with honey or saffron. Among the contents were cherry seeds that contain prussic acid, considered a volatile poison. In small doses, the cherry seeds were used to relieve a number of discomforts including chest pains, stomach and intestinal spasms, throat irritation, and even labor pains. Six cherry kernels a day were said to prevent kidney stones from forming.

A report by researchers at the Medical College of Ohio found that the ellagic acid found in cherries, strawberries, raspberries, grapes, loganberries, plums, and apples may inhibit cancer causing chemicals from damaging DNA.

Throughout the centuries, healers and physicians prescribed foods as medicine. Cherries had many applications: as tonics, antiseptics, and even as anthelminics capable of expelling intestinal worms and parasites.

Cherries are members of the Prunus genus in the rose family (Rosaceae) that includes the stone fruits called drupes. The sour cherry is classified as Prunus cerasus, while the sweet cherry is Prunus avium, that means bird's cherry.

The sour cherry grows to a height of 15 feet (4.5 meters) on a bush that is self-pollinating. The sour cherry can also be used to pollinate sweet cherries. Because the fruit is almost always processed, special care in retaining a perfect appearance need not be a concern. The bush can be harvested with a mechanical shaker, a device that looks like an upsidedown umbrella.

Sour cherries are grown in the United States, Russia, Germany, and in Eastern Europe. The countries that cultivate sweet cherries include Spain, Switzerland, France, Italy, the United States, Russia, and Germany. Germany is the largest cherry producer worldwide, with the United States ranking second.

Today, most of the sour cherries grown in the U.S. come from Michigan, New York, and Wisconsin. Farmers growing sweet cherries are concentrated in the northwestern states of Idaho, Oregon, and Washington as well as California.

To demonstrate their popularity worldwide, over 900 varieties of sweet cherries are recorded, while 300 sour cherry varieties are in existence.

Sweet cherries ripen earlier than the sour varieties. Bing, Royal Ann and Ranier come to market from late May through August. The shorter sour cherry season, that includes Morello, Montmorency, and Early Richmond, runs from June through August.

A third variety of cherry, the Duke, is a hybrid version that combines both the sweet and the sour cherry.

Sweet cherries grow to a height of 30 to 35 feet (9 to 10.5 meters) and require about 900 hours of winter temperatures below 45 F (7 C). A soil pH of 5.5 to 6.5 is ideal for sweet cherries. They require cross-pollination and are harvested by hand. The harvesting of cherries requires special attention to timing, or the birds will harvest the crop first. Many farmers put netting over the trees or use colorful pennants to discourage the birds.

Temperate climates are best for cherry growing. The trees are sensitive to frost during the bloom cycle and suffer sunburn from high temperatures when the fruit is ready for harvest. Too much rain just before harvest can cause the fruits to absorb extra moisture and split open.

While the sour cherry is considered to be quite resistant to diseases, the sweet cherry is highly susceptible to disease.

A native American wild cherry, Prunus virginiana, called chokecherry, bears very acidic astringent fruits often used for making jelly. This cherry grows on a low bush in the eastern part of the U.S. The western counterpart, Prunus virginiana var. Melanocarpa, is sweet when fully ripened.

Nutritional Information
Glucose and fructose in nearly equal amounts, totaling about 10%, comprise the sugars that make cherries taste so sweet. The tart flavor is attributed to malic acid that ranges from 0.5 to 2.0% content, with sour cherries leaning toward the higher number.

Though sour cherries are higher in nutrients, they are not usually eaten fresh like sweet cherries. The sours are higher in vitamin C and beta carotene than the sweets.

An ideal nutrient-dense snack, one cup of sweet cherries has only 84 calories. Sour cherries have even fewer calories, only 52.

Though most people do not associate fruits with fat or even protein, all plant foods contain protein, carbohydrates, and fat. That one cup of cherries has 1 gram of protein, 19 grams of carbohydrates, and 1.1 gram of fat.

Cherries One cup of sweet cherries will yield 250 I.U. of vitamin A and trace amounts of vitamins B1, B2, B3, and B6. The folic acid content measures 4.9 mcg, while there is 8.2 mg of vitamin C.

Calcium content adds up to 17.6 mg, with 0.5 mg of iron. The magnesium level measures 12.9 mg, while the potassium soars to 262 mg. Cherries contain the trace amount of 0.1 mg of zinc.

Tart cherries are usually brighter red than the sweets. Sweet cherries are inclined toward the deep reds and into the burgundy shades.

Look for cherries that are glossy, plump, and undamaged. Cherries should be firm. Avoid fruits that are soft, mushy, or broken. The farmer's market or farm stand is the best source for truly fresh cherries.

Cherries lose flavor and plumpness when the weather gets too warm or when kept at room temperature too long. When purchasing them from the supermarket, look for those that have been kept chilled. Color will often be an indicator of sweet flavor, the darker reds almost always reward one with juicy sweetness.

Another indicator of freshness is the color of the stems. The stems should be green. If you are looking at brown stems, the cherries are either too old or have been stored improperly, and their flavor invariably suffers.

Like many fresh fruits that quickly deteriorate and turn brown, cherries contain polyphenoloxidase, an enzyme that makes them perishable. To prevent cherries from spoiling too soon, store them in the refrigerator soon after purchase, and eat them within a day or two. Cherries are best stored unwashed in a plastic bag.

Cherries can be frozen and kept for up to one year. First, wash and drain them. Then spread them out in a single layer on a plastic or metal tray and freeze them. When completely frozen, they can be packed in an airtight plastic freezer bag.

Raw is the very best way to enjoy sweet cherries in season. They require so little, just washing, and offer so much flavor and pleasure. When biting into a fresh, plump, ripe cherry, notice how it bursts with a definitive pop and releases its wonderful juice.

Cherries are so exceptional in their raw state, it almost feels criminal to cook them. They lose some of their sweetness and require sweetening. They no longer have the firmness of a fresh cherry nor do they retain their rich color.

The proverbial bowl of cherries makes a divine dessert that can be served chilled or at room temperature.

Add cherries to a fruit salad and notice the dramatic color accents cherries offer to the medley.

Make a fruit smoothie with bananas, either fresh or frozen, dates, and pitted cherries for a delicious breakfast dessert.

Remove the stems and pit the cherries with a cherry pitter. Cook them in a small amount of water with added sweetener for about three minutes. If desired, thicken the liquid with equal amounts of cornstarch and water stirred into a thin paste. Add this paste to the boiling liquid little at a time until thickened to desired consistency.

Cooked, glazed cherries make a delicious topping for tarts, cheesecakes, pancakes, or waffles.

Consider filling crepes with cooked cherries.

Following are two recipes to enhance your cherry repertoire:

A dessert that celebrates the cherry season and titillates the taste buds, this sweet, fruity mousse highlighted by Amaretto liqueur is a true taste sensation. If you choose to enjoy the dessert without the Amaretto, the delicious flavor of fresh cherries with the almond accent still comes through with flying colors

Cherry Almond Mousse is one of the delicious recipes from Zel Allen's cookbook The Nut Gourmet; Nourishing Nuts for Every Occasion published by Book Publishing Company in 2006.


Cherry Mousse


1/3 cup (80 ml) blanched almonds *

1 heaping cup (240 ml +) pitted sweet cherries
1 (12.3 ounce) (424 g) box extra firm silken tofu
1/4 cup (60 ml) plus 3 tablespoons evaporated cane juice
1 teaspoon almond extract

1 cup (240 ml) sweet cherries, pitted
2 tablespoons evaporated cane juice
1/4 teaspoon almond extract

4 whole cherries for garnish

  1. Have ready 4 long-stemmed glasses or clear juice glasses. To make the mousse, grind the almonds into a fine meal in a food processor, electric mini-chopper/grinder, or coffee grinder (See note below). Set aside.
  2. Combine the heaping cup of cherries, silken tofu, evaporated cane juice, and almond extract in the blender. Blend on low speed, stopping occasionally to scrape down the sides of the blender jar and redistribute the ingredients. Turn to high speed, add the ground almonds and blend until creamy.
  3. Pour the mousse into the glasses. Set aside, and rinse and dry the blender.
  4. To make the topping, combine the cherries, evaporated cane juice, and almond extract in the blender and process to a thin sauce. Pour over the mousse, creating a tantalizing two-tone dessert. Top with a whole cherry. Chill for several hours before serving.
  5. To serve, place the wine glasses on individual plates and bring them to the table. Serve with spoons and enjoy. Makes 4 sevings.

* If blanched almonds are not available, you can easily blanch your own whole almonds by bringing 2 or 3 inches (5 or 7.5 cm) of water to a boil in a 2-quart (2 liter) saucepan. Add the whole almonds, and allow to boil for 1 minute. Drain the almonds into a strainer, and rub them with your fingers. The loosened skins will slip right off with a little pushing motion.

Note: If you prefer a smoother, creamier mousse, grind the almonds in a mini-chopper/grinder. If you grind the almonds in the food processor, they will be more granulated, which will give slightly more texture to the finished mousse.

Replace the cherries with an equal amount of fresh strawberries.

The versatility of cherries is astounding. Throughout history they have been included in every sort of dish from soup to entrees to desserts. However, they are not limited to just those categories. Here, we employ fresh, sweet cherries to dress up a salad. Bursting with flavor, this exceptional salad dressing contains no oil, salt, or added sugar.


10 oz. (280 grams) fresh cherries (about 2 cups)

1/3 C. (80 ml) + 1 T. raspberry vinegar
1/2 C. (120 ml) water
2 T. Mrs. Dash's Original seasoning
7 pitted dates, or to taste

  1. Using a cherry pitter, remove the pits or stones. Put cherries into the blender.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and blend starting on low speed for a few seconds. Then switch to high speed and blend until smooth and creamy. Makes about 2 cups (480 ml).

NOTE: Adjust the number of pitted dates to the sweetness of the cherries and to your taste. Very sweet cherries may not need any sweetening at all, while tart cherries will need more dates.

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