Friday's Fixin's: Michigan Tart Cherries

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Handful of tart cherries | The Silver Pen

Michigan tart cherries are delicacies that I miss from the Midwest. There is something so uniquely special about them. Not only are they delicious and healthy and amazingly flexible (i.e., they can easily be used in sweet and savory foods!), but to me they are ultimate symbol of long, beautiful summer days in beloved Northern Michigan. Since moving to California, we (unfortunately!) haven’t been back to Michigan, but the Silver Lining is that my friend Maureen Abood lives there. Today, I am excited to share a piece that Maureen wrote for The Silver Pen on our beloved Michigan Tart Cherries.

Michigan tart Cherries | The Silver Pen

Michigan Tart Cherries, Super-Delicious Super Fruit

When the harvests are in full swing out here in Michigan, I’m like a proud parent busting at the seams. I want to show Michigan off as though she is mine, as though I did something to make her all that she is. I suppose I love my state the way some love their sports teams; they have a loyalty that won’t quit, and when their team wins, so do they.

There are many harvests that have Michigan written all over them: the morels, the Lake Superior whitefish. But there is nothing (move over Motor City) that expresses us better than our cherries.

Cherry rows with sky | The Silver Pen

And not just any cherries. Yes, we produce a mother lode of the sweet, firm black cherries you find in your yogurt and ice cream and that we find along the roadside here Up North right now. They’re yummy.

But it’s our tart cherries—the Montmorency and the Balaton also known as sour cherries—that are the ones to watch. And eat, and drink. You’ll find these brighter red, soft, sour cherries most commonly dried (what a snack!), but also as cherry juice concentrate and whole, pitted frozen tart cherries.

These sour little nuggets are so important to Michigan that we have our universities (MSU and U-M) diving deep into all that is tart cherry research, and sharing their findings with growers and the rest of us. We even have our own Cherry Marketing Institute working hard to get the word out. How nice that they thought of me when it comes to cherry ambassadorship…I just returned from one of their “cherry immersion events” in Traverse City. (I know, not a bad deal.)

What I learned about tart cherries was a lot, and I felt like I was at parent-teacher conferences finding out what a genius my kid, my Michigan, is. Here’s why:

  • Tart cherries, also called sour cherries, are powerhouses not just in flavor but in nutrition too, a major Super Fruit packed with Vitamin A (19 times more than strawberries or blueberries), which is important for skin and eye health and a strong immune system.
  • The anti-inflammatory properties of tart cherries work wonders to help “cool the fire” of pain and inflammation in muscles and joints. The anthocyanins make tart cherries bright red, and are present in cherries at levels comparable to some well-known pain medications. This means tart cherries
  • Heart health is boosted with tart cherries, which have been linked to overall anti-inflammation, reduction in cholesterol, and decreased risk for atherosclerosis and metabolic syndrome.
  • Age-related bone loss, or osteoporosis, can be reduced with the addition of Montmorency tart cherries to the diet. My mom was happy to hear that one!
  • Tart cherry juice before bed, anyone? Count me in: the melatonin in tart cherries can help you sleep. A practice of drinking an 8 oz. glass of tart cherry juice morning and evening for two weeks was found to make a significant reduction in insomnia.

Michigan Tart Cherries | The Silver Pen

Perhaps it’s because I’m Lebanese and we do love all things tart and sour, that tart cherries are such a natural in my kitchen. But it turns out that trend trackers are saying sour is getting its day across the board, and sour is IN!

  • Of course, tart cherries are THE cherry for cherry pie (I made a wonderful galette out of mine; check the recipe out here), but so much more.
  • They are terrific pickled or just cooked with some water, and then made into a sauce for fish, chicken, beef, pork, vegetables or tofu.
  • Try dried cherries by the handful, but also in baked goods like granola bars (my favorite chocolate chip cookies rock with dried cherries), on salads, or with yogurt or morning cereals and grains.
  • The juice is fabulous in lemonade, cocktails, or as a simple spritzer.
  • Tart cherries make a beautiful show in vases and in pitchers of water, or frozen as “ice cubes” in drinks.

We are lucky to find tart cherries at the farm markets here, but out of season and outside of the cherry capital, tart cherries are typically found dried, in juice concentrate, or frozen at places like Whole Foods, Wal-Mart, and Trader Joe’s. But check your local grocery too.

All of this is great news, and if that’s not enough, tart cherries—especially in the orchard at harvest—are…

Gorgeous.

Up North in Michigan, we love our pure beauty, our Pure Michigan. And like a good parent, we know when to just sit back and enjoy the wonder of it all.

Tart Cherry Galette with slice | The Silver Pen

To read more about Michigan and some recipes for tart cherries, be sure to visit Maureen’s website:  www.maureenabood.com

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Comments

  1. E.B. says

    Love her website! Just added to my favorites and subscribed to it. One of my dearest (and best) friends is from Michigan, I'm forwarding this post to her (she's also an Amazing Wondrous Magical Fairy GodMother). I am adding dried cherries to my brownies and chocolate chip cookies next time I bake, yum! Fall is my favorite season, visiting Michigan during Fall is on my bucket list, so looking forward to that trip!

  2. Melani Wilson says

    I love hearing about the latest research on the nutritional wallop packed by cherries! I am forwarding to some friends, as we had this discussion earlier in the summer. Spending time in the Leelanau Peninsula has been a blessing to me and I always stock up on 4lb boxes of dried cherries for the kid's lunch boxes. I enjoy the cherry juice concentrate mixed with sparkling water or iced tea. Delicious! Thanks for sharing Hollye!

  3. says

    Thank you all! The cherry growers told me it's their #1 priority to make frozen tart cherries more widely available, so it's a-comin'! Maili, I would love to welcome you to Michigan personally….

  4. Maili Halme says

    It is on my bucket list to go to Michigan during cherry season. I love all cherries including the tart ones. Thank you also for introducing me to Maureen Abood. I've been happily following her recipes ever since your first post on her. She just had another fabulous recipe for grilled apricots. All of her food looks so delicious!

  5. Carolee Groux says

    I love the sweet Michigan Bing cherries and Queen Ann cherries available now; but have never seen the red tart cherry types. The season is so short to find them fresh and to enjoy their wonderful flavor and health benefits. I will look for them frozen or dried at Whole Foods or Trader Joe's. I hope that these stores stock them dried or frozen in the off-season as well.

    I too have enjoyed trips to Door County Wisconsin, and across the bay to Michigan and the Traverse City area, but never at cherry harvest time. I bet the Cherry Festival is a fun time. (We usually made our road trips there in the Fall.)