For the home cook, a love of cherries can pay off. They are a superb source of antioxidants and are high in potassium, which helps regulate blood pressure. Certain kinds of cherries are also among the few natural sources of melatonin, the sleep aid. If you aren't a fan already, it may simply be that you haven't found the right cherry. More than 500 varieties grow worldwide—including the tart Morello from Europe, the Montmorency from Michigan, and the sweet Bing, Rainier, Stella, and blushing gold Royal Ann from the Pacific Northwest. Custom decrees that sour cherries are best for baking, since their natural acidity counteracts the sweetness of the added sugar and the richness of butter and eggs. Sweet cherries, meanwhile, have traditionally been reserved for savory dishes or eating out of the hand. At Paley's Place, recipes are adapted to suit whichever cherries are available, by adding either sugar or lemon juice to push the fruit's flavor in one direction or the other. Whatever the preparation, Paley doesn't fuss much with the cherries, preferring to allow their natural charms to shine through.

One type of fussing is inevitable, however: separating the stones from the flesh. "It's always a pain," says Lauren Fortgang of Paley's Place, who finds herself spending many a June afternoon pitting cherries. "They squirt you back," she says, "so you wind up looking like you just murdered someone." But perhaps it's a fitting rite of passage for a fruit that has hovered forever on the threshold between innocence and passion—and a small price to pay for the sweet, dark reward of tasting cherries at the peak of their brief, alluring season. 

Get the recipes for 6 divine cherry desserts


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