Writers and musicians have philosophised over it, and a Roman soldier was said to have even died for it. We provide the skinny on cherries and what makes them so fantastic.
BEFORE Forrest Gump came along and changed everything, there were songwriters Lew Brown and Ray Henderson, who sang, “Life is a bowl of cherries”. The year, 1931, was the height of the American Depression and the lyrics were meant to convey the message that life is as pleasurable and as fleeting as a bowl of cherries, and should therefore be cherished.
Allusion to their palatability in popular culture is by no means accidental, as these tasty treats have long pleased food lovers for centuries. One of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits, the cherry – which in Latin means of or for the birds, due to the birds’ obvious love for the fruit – originates from the Caucasus Mountains, where Azerbaijan, northern Turkey and Iran now are.
In the article entitled Cherish The Cherry by online food magazine The Nibble, ancient botanist and protégé of Aristotle Theoprastus confirmed the existence of cherries in his book History Of Plants in 300BC. However, Oxford historians claimed that cherries were being cultivated well before that time.
The cherry tree was so beloved by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans that, according to legend, decadent Roman general Lucullus – who was responsible for bringing cherries to Italy around 74BC – took his own life when he realised his supply of cherries had diminished.
The Romans were credited for introducing cherry cultivation to the rest of the world, and Roman author Pliny The Elder wrote that within 120 years, this fantastic fruit would spread as far as Britain.
Nevertheless, it wasn’t until the mid-1800s that cherry production begun in earnest. In 1852, Presbyterian minister Peter Dougherty planted a number of trees near Old Traverse City in Michigan – a place thought to be too barren for cherries to grow. Much to everyone’s surprise, the fruit started to flourish and other residents soon began to join Dougherty in his effort.
Today, Traverse City is deservingly crowned Cherry Capital of the World. And while cherries are commercially grown in many countries including Turkey, Italy and Australia, the United States, especially America’s north-western states, remains one of the world’s biggest growing regions.
Most of the cherries that are shipped to Malaysia are from here, particularly the state of Washington.
There are two main species of cherry, namely Prunus cerasus, the sour or red cherry, that comes in a number of varieties including the most popular, Bing; and Prunus avium, the sweet cherry and its genetic offspring the Rainier Cherry, known for its beautiful yellowish-crimson hue and higher price tag.
Another well-known sweet cherry is the Royal Ann, which is better known in its preserved, dyed and sweetened form as the maraschino cherry. Originally preserved as a delicacy for royalty and noblemen, these cherries are now used to garnish cocktails and desserts.
Nevertheless, sweet cherries are best enjoyed fresh without cooking or processing of any sort, while sour cherries are popular for use in pies, jams, stuffings and even liqueurs.
People enjoy cherries differently: Russians add cherry preserves to their tea; Germans distil cherries into a prized brandy called Kirschwasser; and Hungarians make cold soups during the summer months out of it.
Or take a cue from the French and make griottes by dipping cherries in melted dark chocolate and refrigerating them.
“The question,” as The Nibble puts it, “isn’t what you can do with cherries – but what you can’t.”
And these wonderful fruits are great for more than just a snack. With a higher antioxidant capacity than grapes, oranges, plums, raspberries and strawberries combined, cherries – especially darker-coloured ones – pack a healthy punch.
In an article “Are Cherries The New Wonder Fruit?”, NBC News wrote how science has demonstrated that tart cherries contain significant amounts of melatonin – a hormone produced in the brain’s pineal gland that has been credited with slowing the ageing process, and fighting insomnia and jet lag. It’s also being studied as a potential treatment for cancer, depression and other diseases and disorders.
Now that cherry season – which runs from May to August in the northern hemisphere – is in full swing, there’s no excuse not to get your fix. Available at all major supermarkets such as Cold Storage, Giant, Tesco, AEON, Aeonbig, Jaya Grocer, Village Grocer, MBG Fruits and other independent and mainstream grocers for RM50 to RM60 per kilogram, depending on the size, cherries can last up to a week in the fridge. Just be sure to select plump, glossy ones with green stems intact before taking a bite!
A cool way to pit cherries, plus two recipes