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