Whenever Fourth of July approaches, it’s a a reminder that sour cherries will be ripening in orchards soon. Sour cherries have such a fleeting season that one can only hope to harvest enough for freezing. They can be consumed fresh, but are too tart for most people (my 3 1/2 year old niece eats them like candy!). Unlike sweet cherries, they cannot be purchased at the supermarket unless one is content with preserved and canned ones. Fresh sour cherries are easy to find in Europe where they are popular in beverages, pastries, and sauces, but finding them in United States requires a weekend outing to a PYO farm or farmer’s market. Two types of sour cherries can be found – the dark fleshed morello cherry and the light colored amarelle or Montmorency cherry. Both types share the same species, Prunus cerasus native to Europe and southwest Asia. For some reason, the former appears harder to find while the latter is easier to source. Only once did I happen on morello cherries in a farmer’s market in Tasmania, Australia – their nearly ebony flesh and juice made for an arresting pie filling.
A cherry pitter is essential for pitting the cherries, otherwise using a knife to remove manually the pits is more tedious and tiresome. Because the sour cherries are smaller than the sweet cherries that the cherry pitter is designed for, the pits sometimes may not come out cleanly. The most efficient approach towards pitting several pounds of sour cherries is to rope a friend in and have a glass of wine. Before you know it, the number of unpitted cherries is rapidly depleted. Rarely does the purchase of sour cherries coincide with a ready-made pie pastry shell, and the cherries are placed in a freezer bag when the right moment commences.
There is no need to limit sour cherries to pies and desserts- I sometimes muddle them in a cocktail or a sangria where their tang enlivens the sweetness of other fruits and liquors. The cherries are good in salads as well. The health benefits of sour cherries are well-documented – our circulatory systems receive a boost from its compounds, and the symptoms of gout are relieved.