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Summer cherry recipes

Jen Klein is a New England-based technical writer and mother of three. When she isn't asking her kids to stop bickering, "caramelizing" the dinner or actively ignoring the dust bunnies under the couch, she enjoys knitting, gardening, pho...

Cherries are in season!

Cherries are appearing in grocery stores right now, and my kids are excited. I am, too. Fresh, sweet cherries are such a treat! A bag of cherries rarely lasts long around here. As soon as I get home from the market, I wash them and put them in a bowl -- and we usually end up sitting around the table, talking, laughing and eating cherries until they are gone.

Cherry Pie

Beyond family bonding time, cherries are one superb fruit for cooking, baking and just plain enjoying. Canned and dried cherries and cherry juice are available year 'round, but fresh cherries are a special treat. Yes, there's some work involved in getting the pits out, but once you've started baking with fresh cherries, it's difficult to imagine baking cherry desserts any other way.

Sweet and sour Cherries

Both sweet and sour cherry varieties have their place in cooking. Cherry recipes tend to be specific about the cherries appropriate for the recipe. I tend to prefer recipes that use fresh sweet cherries, but that's just me.

Get them while you can

Cherries have a very short growing season (with significant crops in Michigan and the Pacific Northwest). Whether you use Bing, Ranier, black or another variety of cherries, take full advantage of the cherry season when it's here because you'll have to wait a year until it comes around again.

Cherries are Nutritious

Cherries are quickly becoming known as a superfruit -- high in antioxidants and other nutrients essential to health. The antioxidant anthocyanin gives cherries their red color, and studies suggest cherries also have powerful anti-inflammatory and anti-aging properties.

Tart cherries are one of the few known food sources of melatonin, an antioxidant that helps regulate biorhythms and sleep patterns. Eating a handful of dried cherries or drinking pure cherry juice an hour before your desired sleep time can help you get a better night's sleep -- and can even help with jet lag.

In addition to what we know already, research into cherries is revealing new benefits regularly. Cherries are definitely one of those foods that is rising in overall esteem.

Pitting Cherries

When using fresh cherries in recipes, you must pit them. Thankfully, the cherry pitter makes short work of the task, and most are not expensive. Several companies make cherry pitters for the commercial market, and the best one for you is really a matter of personal preference. Most pitters work on a simple principle of holding the cherry in one part of the gadget and, with a squeeze, pushing a narrow metal rod through the cherry, therefore pushing out the pit. Your hand may get a little sore, but just think of the delicious result! You also can use the gadget to remove pits from olives.

Cherry recipes

Fresh cherry salsa

Makes about 2 cups

Excellent with grilled beef!

Ingredients:
24 fresh sweet cherries, pitted and chopped
1/2 to 1 fresh chili pepper, seeds removed and minced
3 tablespoons fresh lime juice (about 1 large)
1/2 sweet red pepper, finely chopped
12 very small sweet tomatoes, halved and sliced
1/2 small Vidalia onion, chopped finely
1/2 cup Italian parsley minced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro leaves, minced
1 clove fresh garlic, peeled and minced
1/4 teaspoon salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Directions:
1. Combine all ingredients.

2. Let sit in the refrigerator for several hours to let the flavors meld.

Summer Salad with Cherries and Hazelnuts

Serves 4 to 6

Ingredients:
Mixed lettuces or mesclun mix
Balsamic vinaigrette
1 pound fresh sweet cherries, pitted and halved
3/4 cup crumbled Gorgonzola or blue cheese
1/2 cup hazelnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

Directions:
1. Toss the salad greens with the vinaigrette.

2. Sprinkle half the cherries, cheese and hazelnuts over the salad and toss again.

3. Sprinkle the top with the remaining cherries, cheese and hazelnuts.

Cherry Chicken Stir-Fry

Serves 4

Ingredients:
1/4 cup chicken broth
1 teaspoon sesame oil
2 teaspoons cornstarch, divided
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 tablespoons sherry
1 teaspoon cornstarch
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 pound boneless skinless chicken breast, cut in thin strips
Vegetable oil
1/8 teaspoon crushed dried red chiles (optional)
1-1/2 cups snap pea pods
1-1/2 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted
1 (8-ounce) can pineapple chunks, drained

Directions:
1. In a small bowl, whisk together chicken broth, sesame oil, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, sugar and black pepper. Set aside.

2. In a large bowl, combine the sherry, remaining cornstarch and salt. Add the chicken and mix well to coat. Let stand about 15 minutes.

3. In a wide frying pan or wok, heat some vegetable oil until it is very hot. Add the chiles, if using, and stir-fry for 30 seconds. Add the chicken and stir-fry until just cooked through. Remove from the pan and set aside.

4. Add a little more vegetable oil to the pan and add the peas. Stir-fry about a minute, then add the cherries, pineapple and chicken. Stir-fry 1 minute more.

5. Give the chicken broth sauce another quick whisk and add it to the pan, stirring to coat all the ingredients. Let thicken over high heat for just a minute or so, then serve over brown rice.

Fresh Cherry Pie

Serves 8

Ingredients:
Dough for a double-crust pie, chilled
4 cups fresh sweet cherries, pitted (go for the firmer, less ripe cherries here)
5 tablespoons cornstarch
2/3 cup sugar
1/8 teaspoon salt
Juice of half a lemon
1/4 teaspoon almond extract
1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter, cut into several cubes
1 egg
2 tablespoons water
Coarse sugar

Directions:
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Combine the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, salt, lemon juice and almond extract in a bowl. Stir gently to combine.

2. Roll out half the pie crust and line a pie plate with it. Spoon the filling into the pie plate. (Don't transfer all the liquid from the bowl, though.) Dot the top of the filling with the cubes of butter.

3. Roll out the other pie crust and place it on top. Seal the edges, and cut slits in the top of the crust. You can be decorative about all this, if desired.

4. Whisk together the egg and the water, and brush the top of the pie with it. Sprinkle sugar over the top of the pie.

5. Bake 25 minutes. Reduce the temperature of the oven to 350 degrees F and bake 25 minutes more. Allow to cool completely before slicing and serving.

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