Side Dish: It’s cherry season at local stores

This is absolutely the best time of year for fans of fresh, succulent, sweet cherries. The stone fruit is at its peak.

While there are hundreds of varieties of cherries, there are two main types: sweet, for eating out of hand or for cooking. and sour cherries, which are usually used in baked goods or preserves. Most fresh cherries are available from May through August.

The Pacific Northwest, Michigan, Wisconsin and California produce most of the commercially grown cherries in the United States. If you’re lucky enough to be in a growing area during cherry season as my husband and I were once, you can buy fresh cherries at roadside stands. My husband, a serious cherry fan, insisted on stopping every time we came across a stand. Our rental car filled with the delicious aroma of cherries as he happily snacked his way across Washington.

What brought the memories of that trip to mind was a news release from Whole Foods Market about its Louisiana stores celebrating stone fruit season this upcoming weekend with a “cherry fest.” It also offered some tips on selecting, storing and using cherries, and shared some recipes.

    Cherries should have green stems and no brown patches or bruising. They should be plump and firm.

    You don’t need a fancy machine to pit cherries. Instead, place a cherry stem side down in a glass bottle with an opening smaller than the cherry and punch a chopstick through the middle of the cherry.

    To freeze cherries, remove pits and stems, and then spread in a single layer on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet. Once they are frozen solid, transfer to a freezer-safe storage container.

    Cherries can last up to a week after purchase. Use older cherries to make jam or preserves.

    To dry cherries, remove pits and stems, and then spread on a parchment-paper-lined baking sheet, or on an oiled rack fitted into a rimmed baking sheet. Bake in 200°F oven for several hours (possibly 6-8), until cherries are dried and wrinkly.

Sharing recipes

Readers sometimes send in recipes they think other readers will like. Maria P. Horcasita shared a smoothie recipe she says is vegan approved. See her recipe and a recipe using dried cherries.

Cheramie Sonnier is The Advocate’s food editor. Email csonnier@theadvocate.com. Gorgonzola and Dried Cherry Salad

Serves 6. Recipe is from Whole Foods Market, which says this salad can be used as a main lunch entrée or as a side dish for dinner.

21/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 tbls. raspberry vinegar

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

1⁄8 tsp. salt

Ground black pepper, to taste

1/2 cup toasted pecans

1/4 cup dried cherries

1 head leafy green lettuce, torn into bite-size pieces

1 granny smith apple, peeled and thinly sliced

1/2 red onion, thinly sliced

1/2 cup crumbled Gorgonzola cheese

2

1. Whisk together oil, vinegar, garlic, and salt and pepper in a small bowl to make a dressing.

2. Toss pecans, cherries, lettuce, apples and onions together in a large salad bowl. Top with dressing and toss gently to coat. Garnish with Gorgonzola cheese and serve.

Nutritional analysis per serving: 230 calories (170 from fat), 19 grams total fat, 4 grams saturated fat, 10 milligrams cholesterol, 190 milligrams sodium, 12 grams carbohydrate (3 grams dietary fiber, 7 grams sugar), 4 grams protein.

22

3Nutty Fruitspin Smoothie

3Makes 2 (16-oz.) servings. Recipe is by Maria P. Horcasitas who says each serving is about 200 calories.

32 handfuls of baby spinach

1 banana, cut up

1 pear, cored and cut up

5 to 7 strawberries

11/2 cups almond milk

12 almonds

3 Place all ingredients in a blender and mix until smooth.