Bing, Brooks, Ranier: Make a meal with CA cherries

By Evan Kleiman

California cherries hang from a tree in Lodi. Photo courtesy of Rawpixel

With the arrival of June, it means cherry season will be ending in a few weeks. So it’s time to chow down on them with abandon while they’re in the markets. Cherries are a regional fruit that is well represented in California, with the most harvested varieties being Bing, Brooks, Chelan, and Rainier. They vary in flavor and texture — from crunchy to tender, low-acid and super-sweet, to a more complex balance of sugar and acid. There are also early, mid-season, and late varieties, so you can get the longest cherry season possible. California specializes in the sweet rather than sour version of the fruit, since sour cherry trees generally benefit from a cold winter. 

But these big four varieties that we may see in the grocery stores aren’t the whole picture. I know I talk about farmers markets all the time, but cherries are a perfect example of why you want to shop for fruit there. Bakersfield farmer Steven Murray of Murray Family Farms, who brings cherries to Southern California farmers markets, grows 60 varieties of cherries, some of which are always the first cherries to market in North America. Some of his varieties simply have a number, like the GG1s I ate last week. Those had high sugar but also high acid, which gave them incredible flavor. GG1 was the most complex and delicious cherries I ever ate. They were actually so flavorful that you couldn’t really eat them by the handful, you had to savor them.

I don’t really have a favorite cherry type. I try to enjoy as wide a variety of flavors and textures as I can, and the best way to do that is not only to eat them out of their little boxes, but to create meals with them, which is why Good Food Digital Producer Elina Shatkin put together a roundup of cherry recipes from cookbook authors I’ve interviewed in the past. 

Abra Berens’ chocolate pudding recipe calls for Bing or Nelson cherries to be soaked in a coffee and sugar mixture, then tossed with ground coffee, brown sugar, and ginger. Photo by EE Berger.

To start our meal, let’s try the recipe for Balsamic Roasted Cherries. This idea is from Dan Mattern at Friends and Family. You season them like a vegetable without pitting or stemming them. Season with salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic, then roast them covered in a baking dish until their skins split, and juices start to pour out. Serve on a small plate with a dollop of mascarpone or any cheese, really.

A little hit of sweet is always welcome in a well-seasoned salad. And this Savory Cherry Almond Salad recipe from Amelia Saltsman’s The Santa Monica Farmers Market Cookbook pairs toasted chopped almonds and slightly bitter lettuce, like frisee or escarole, with with pitted and halved cherries. Saltsman urges us to combine cherry varieties. The salad is dressed simply with lemon juice and grapeseed or almond oil, and served with a slice of mild camembert, goat, or blue cheese.

I may not be talking about cherry pie here, but how about a savory Duck Peach Cherry Galette? This is a recipe I came up with when I was doing my original pie-a-day marathon. You can make your own duck confit, or buy confit duck legs from most independent butchers ready to heat and eat, which makes this special gallette so easy. The fruit is a marvelous pairing with the duck, and all of it is tucked into a dough made with a little cornmeal for additional flavor and texture.

To finish off our meal, I’m going to recommend author Abra Beren’s recipe for Chocolate Pudding with Coffee Soaked Black Cherries. You first soak the cherries in coffee syrup, then toss with a little bit of ground coffee, brown sugar, ginger, and salt. Then you top the bowls of pudding with them. YUM! I love making my own pudding because nothing beats licking the spoon when the pudding is still warm. 

All this is to say: Enjoy those cherries now and find excuses to eat more of them.