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Just a Bowl of Cherries: All About That Fabulous Fruit 
 
by Rita Templeton July 25, 2005

Cherries vary: the different types …

Cherries come in two categories: sweet and tart. Sweet cherries are the most popular.

  • Bing – as we’ve discussed, the Bing is king when it comes to the demand for sweet cherries. It is a large, plump variety with dark, purple-red flesh and dark ruby skin that turns nearly black when fully ripe.
  • Lambert – the second most popular variety. It’s a red, heart-shaped fruit, very similar in taste to the Bing.
  • Rainier – the third most popular, developed at the Washington State University Research Station by Dr. Harold Fogle. It is sweeter and milder than the Bing, and has creamy yellow and pink flesh and skin.
  • Royal Ann – this variety is most often made into maraschino cherries. It was in 1896 that cherry processors in the United States began experimenting with making Royal Ann cherries into maraschinos, following the lead of the original maraschino cherries – a variety called Marasca that Italian merchants soaked in liqueur. The processors substituted almond oil for some of the liqueur in the cherries, eventually omitted the liqueur altogether, and by 1920 the Royal Ann version of the maraschino had replaced the Italian delicacy in the United States.
  • Sour cherries – the tart varieties, Montmorency and Morello being the most common types, are a very bright red in color and much smaller than the sweets. They’re most often canned or frozen and used for pie fillings and sauces. Michigan grows over 75% of the tart cherry crop in a five-county area around Lake Traverse.

All varieties of cherry have remarkably short growing seasons. Bings are generally available from the end of May to early August, reaching their peak season in June and July. Its sweet counterparts such as Van, Lambert, and Rainier are available a tad bit longer, until about mid-August or so. The cherry varieties that appear earlier and later in the season than Bings are softer and less sweet. Any fresh cherries you see in the store after August are most likely from cold storage, although some stores import small quantities of sweet cherries from New Zealand during the winter months. The growing season of sour cherries such as Morello and Montmorency is blink-and-you’ll-miss-it short – it both begins and ends in July!

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