Cherries: Picking, Storage, and Other Useless Facts

Fresh cherries at Regier Family Farms - Santa Monica Farmers Market

I was driving back from the Santa Monica Farmers Market yesterday when NPR did a segment on California's 2014 cherry crop. Farmer Andy Mariani was explaining how this year's harvest is both earlier and thinner than normal. The season only runs from mid-May to the end of June so it's already pretty short. Perhaps this is cause for panic? Perhaps.

In a nutshell, the trees didn't have enough time to chillax during the winter (they literally need to chill in order to hibernate) so the plants aren't as productive. It's the equivalent, Farmer Mariani said, to a person falling asleep at 11pm and then being woken up at 1am for a full day of work. I'm pretty sure we can all relate to California's tired cherry trees.

Climate and Cherries

The "chill hours" for cherries are when temperatures hover between 32 and 45 degrees. Bing cherries, for example, need about 800 chill hours to be happy. If you look at this chart, you'll see that the cool periods in California have been declining over the last ten years, thus making it harder for cherries and other dependent crops to produce. Not only have the temperatures been an issue, but the fog that protects dormant plants from the sun is also on the decline.

I'm not going to get into the politics of climate change since this is a family-friendly site. As Farmer Andy Mariani mentioned, there was a cycle of warm weather in the 1930s and 1940s so it's possible we're just in a phase. That being said, if the trend continues many nut and fruit species in California will need to adapt and/or farmers will have to find varieties that can deal with shorter periods of cool weather. Then there's the need for bees in this scenario and that hasn't been looking great since the early 2000s. Fruit for thought.

There's Something About Cherry

In terms of cherries, up until last year I passed over this lovely fruit entirely. I have no explanation for such irrational behavior. Since I'm just wrapping my head around choosing and caring for these little gems I decided to ask The Google for some advice.

Types of Cherries

There are just too many to list. Luckily I stumbled across Dave Wilson Nursery's page that features 37 varieties with photos and brief descriptions. It should be noted that this is a nursery in California and different states will likely have additional types.

What are the best cherries to cook with? That all depends on what tastes best and what suits your palate. Some people like sweet cherry pie and others like sour. Easy enough.

Cherry Nutrition Facts

  • Cherries are one of the few food sources that contain a significant amount melatonin. If you want a good night of sleep you'll need to eat some cherry pie.
  • Cherries are high in antioxidants (or flavonoids), Vitamin C, Vitamin A, and potassium.

How to Select Cherries

  • Sampling the cherries is the best way to tell if they're any good. All that sparkles is not tasty.
  • Indicators of freshness:
  • The skin should be glossy and firm.
  • There shouldn't be any wrinkling around the "shoulder" and/or base of the stem.
  • Intact stems are preferable and they should be flexible and bright green.
  • Dark cherries should be firm but not hard, though Rainier are not quite as firm as dark varieties.
  • Rainier cherries occasionally have small brown spots which may be a sign of high sugar content or being overripe.
  • Buy perfectly ripe cherries as they don't ripen off the tree in the way that tomatoes and avocados do.

How to Store Cherries

  • Get your fresh cherries into the refrigerator as soon as is possible.
  • Store cherries in a plastic bag or airtight container with a paper towel to absorb moisture.
  • Don't wash cherries (or most fruit for that matter) until you're ready to use them.
  • Cherries last for about a week when at peak freshness, but should be used or frozen sooner rather than later.

How to Freeze Cherries

  • Wash the cherries and then dry them thoroughly.
  • Remove the stems, but the pits can be left intact if you wish.
  • If you have specific recipes in mind (smoothies, pies, etc.), divide the cherries into the respective quantities and freeze separately in plastic bags .
  • Label the bags with dates and weights.

Tools for Cherry Pitting

I use the OXO Cherry Pitter and really like it, especially for the price. If you want to be MacGyver about it here are a couple of ideas that may work:

Cooking Ideas for Fresh Cherries

This is just a brainstorming list to help with flavor and recipe ideas. Cherry BBQ sauce along with pistachio and roasted cherry ice cream have my attention.


  • Cherry pie
  • Cherry clafoutis
  • Cherry and almond cookies or coffee cake
  • Roasted cherry and pistachio ice cream
  • Drunken cherry cobbler
  • Cherry galette
  • Cherry jam
  • Cherry tart
  • Cherry and blueberry smoothie
  • Cherry and coconut cupcakes
  • Cherry and apricots in some form
  • Cherry milk shake - add chocolate?
  • Topping for cheesecake


  • Cherry chipotle pulled pork
  • Cherry compote to serve with sweet or savory dishes
  • Cherry sauce with meat - pork, duck, or chicken would work well
  • Cherry BBQ sauce - yum
  • Cherry salsa - perhaps for chicken or pork tacos
  • Cornbread stuffing
Article Tags : spring/summer, stone fruit
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