All About Cherries

Recipes: Maple Cherry Sauce, and Cherry Cashew Cookies

February is National Cherry Month


This tangy, colorful, wholesome fruit is best-known in desserts, especially cherry pie and cherry cobbler. Cherries also are tasty in main courses, side dishes, salads and beverages.

Not only do cherries have great taste and versatility, they are nutritious. Tart cherries are high in vitamin A and potassium and low in fat, calories and sodium.

Tart cherries, which are sometimes called pie cherries or sour cherries, are seldom sold fresh. This ruby-red fruit is frozen or canned shortly after harvesting to seal in the fresh flavor. Consumers can find unsweetened tart cherries, either canned or frozen, and cherry pie filling in most supermarkets. Cherry juice blends, a combination of cherry juice and other fruit juices, also are available in supermarkets.

Dried tart cherries are a new way to enjoy cherries. They make great snacks and are delicious additions to many recipes. Dried cherries are available at gourmet and specialty stores and selected supermarkets.

Sweet cherries are sold fresh during the summer months, but they also can be purchased in frozen and canned forms and as maraschino and glace cherries.

So begin your adventures in good eating with cherries today.


Cherries Available in Many Forms

  • Frozen Tart Cherries: Sweetened with one part granulated sugar to five parts tart cherries; available in 30-pound containers (smaller containers available by special order). They can be converted to pie filling or used in bakery items, sauces, salads and side dishes.
  • Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) Cherries: The flavor and color of fresh with no added sugar; available in 40-pound boxes and 2-1/2-pound poly bags (special 5-pound packs available). IQF tarts separate easily for desired quantities without thawing entire package. They can be used in bakery items, frozen desserts, sauces and salads.
  • Dried Cherries: Sweet and unsweetened, no preservatives or sulfites; shelf stable; available in 10-pound foil-lined bags and l-ounce to 6-ounce consumer packs. Dried cherries are delicious as a snack; they also can be used in baked goods, hot or cold cereals, meat sauces or trail mixes.
  • Cherry Filling: Tart cherries in a thickened syrup; available in No. 10 (7-pound) or No. 2 (21-ounce) cans. Cherry filling is used in pies, cakes, ice creams, sauces and toppings.
  • Canned Tart Cherries: No added sugar; available in water or juice in No. 10 (6-1/2-pound) and No. 303 (16-ounce) cans. Applications include pies, desserts, salads, bakery items and confectionery products.
  • Concentrate: Tart cherry juice concentrated to 68 degrees Brix; available in 52-gallon drums and 5-gallon containers (smaller quantities by special order). It can be reconstituted to a single-strength juice or used for flavoring and coloring products.

Cherry Facts

  • Michigan produces 70 to 75 percent of the tart cherries grown in the United States; Utah grows about 10 percent of the crop; Wisconsin, about 5 percent. (New York, 10 percent; Pennsylvania, 5 percent; there also are small crops of tart cherries in Colorado, Ohio, Oregon and Washington.)
  • The amount of tart cherries produced each year varies, depending on a number of factors, including the age of the trees and weather conditions. In 1994, Michigan harvested 210 million pounds of tart cherries; the total tart cherry production for the U. S. was 288 million pounds. In 1993, Michigan harvested 270 million pounds of tart cherries; 215 million pounds in 1992. The 1995 tart cherry crop for Michigan is estimated to be 265 to 320 million pounds with a national crop of 325 to 390 million pounds.
  • There are 3.8 million tart cherry trees in Michigan; there are about 1,000 tart cherry growers in the state.
  • Oceana County leads the state in tart cherry trees planted with 21 percent of the trees, followed by Leelaneau County with 20 percent.
  • The Northwest Region, which includes Leelaneau County and several other surrounding counties, has the biggest production of tart cherries, followed by the West Central Region, which includes Oceana County.
  • The major variety of tart cherry grown in the United States is the Montmorency. It has been cultivated in the United States for more than a century because the fruit is excellent for pies, preserves, jellies, juice and other products. However, scientists are continually working on improved cherry varieties.
  • The largest cherry breeding program in the United States is at Michigan State University under the direction of Dr. Amy lezzoni, associate professor, department of horticulture. Dr. Iezzoni is working to develop new tart cherry varieties that are more versatile.
  • Tart cherries, which are sometimes called pie cherries or sour cherries, are seldom sold fresh; they generally are canned or frozen shortly after harvesting for use in many different kinds of products throughout the year.
  • Sweet cherries primarily are grown in the Pacific Coast states, but Michigan joins the top four producers, harvesting about 20 percent of the crop each year. The 1995 sweet cherry crop for Michigan is estimated at 47 to 58 million pounds with a total U.S. production of about 270 million pounds.
  • Sweet cherry varieties grown in Michigan include Emperor Francis, Rainier and Schmidt. The Bing variety of sweet cherry is not grown in Michigan. The Schmidt variety, however, is similar to the Bing variety.
  • In the past, most of Michigan's sweet cherries were processed; many of them were used for maraschino cherries. With promotion support from the Cherry Marketing Institute, some producers are marketing fresh sweet cherries.
  • Although a cherry tree can grow almost anywhere, the quantity and quality of its fruit depend on specific climatic conditions. That's why Michigan orchards are concentrated along Lake Michigan, where the lake tempers arctic winds in winter and cools the orchards in summer. The sandy soil and rolling hills along Michigan's western shore also are contributing factors in the orchards' productivity. In Wisconsin, the orchards are concentrated in Door County, which juts out into Lake Michigan and offers similar growing conditions as in Michigan. The tart cherry orchards in Utah also are close to large lakes.
  • In Michigan, tart cherries are grown from Benton Harbor to Elk Rapids with Traverse City (and the Grand Traverse Region) serving as the heart of cherry country. Most of Michigan's sweet cherry production is concentrated in the Grand Traverse Region.
  • Both tart and sweet cherries ripen in July; the third week of July is usually the peak of the harvest.
  • Cherries are harvested using a mechanical shaker, which resembles and upside-down umbrella. (Sweet cherries that are to be marketed fresh are picked by hand.)

Maple Cherry Sauce

Cherry Sauce

Flavored with maple and orange, this sauce is terrific with roasted or grilled meats.


  • 1/3 cup cherry juice blend
  • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1 cup frozen unsweetened tart cherries, thawed and well drained
  • 3/4 cup maple-flavored syrup
  • 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel

In a medium saucepan, combine cherry juice blend and cornstarch; mix well. Cook over medium heat until thickened. Add cherries, syrup, walnuts and orange peel; mix well. Cook, stirring frequently, over low heat until all ingredients are hot.

Makes 1-1/2 cups.
  • Serving size: 1/4 cup
  • Calories per serving: 187
  • Total fat per serving: 6 grams

Cherry Cashew Cookies

Cherry Cashew Cookies

Better than everyday chocolate chip cookies!


  • 1 cup butter or margarine, softened
  • 3/4 cup granulated sugar
  • 3/4 cup firmly packed brown sugar
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 package (10 ounce) vanilla milk chips or 1-2/3 cups coarsely chopped white chocolate
  • 1-1/2 cups dried tart cherries
  • 1 cup lightly salted cashews

In a large mixing bowl, combine butter, granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and vanilla. Mix with electric mixer on medium speed until thoroughly mixed. Combine flour and baking soda; gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Stir in vanilla milk chips, dried cherries and cashews. Drop by rounded tablespoonfuls onto ungreased baking sheets.

Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven 12 to 15 minutes, or until golden brown. Let cool on wire racks; store in a tightly covered container.

  • Makes 4-1/2 dozen cookies.
  • Serving size: 1 cookie
  • Calories per serving: 126
  • Total fat per serving: 6 grams

Provided by Cherry Marketing Institute, Inc.


This page originally published as a FoodDay article (circa 1997).

Copyright © 2007, Forkmedia LLC. All rights reserved.

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