Cherries, Nature’s Hidden Treasure

February is National Cherry Month.  Cherries are a summer fruit so why are they celebrated in February? Here’s some fun facts about cherries and why we celebrate them in the month of February.

George Washington’s February birthday is an annual reminder of the tale of our first President admitting to his father that he chopped down a cherry tree on the family farm.  The folklore tale has forever linked Washington and cherries to February.

Cherry trees come to life in February in Washington DC signaling the coming of the National Cherry Blossom Festival in late March and early April (March 20-April 14, 2019).  Thousands of trees and millions of cherry blossoms provide a spectacular sight.  The annual celebration started in 1912 when the people of Japan sent 3,000 cherry trees to the people of the United States to celebrate friendship between the two nations.

An additional link to February is National Heart Month and Valentine’s Day.  Because a single cherry looks a bit like a little heart, significant of both, it seems only appropriate that the cherry be celebrated, too.

Cherries bloom for a maximum of two weeks with peak bloom only lasting a couple of day. It takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie. The average cherry tree grows about 7000 cherries each year which is enough to make about 28 pies. It takes 30-40 bees to pollinate one tree.  70% of all the tart cherries produced in the US are grown in the northwest region of lower Michigan known as the Cherry Capitol of the World.  Cherries are not a native American fruit; they were brought to this country with the first settlers in the early 17 century.  Cherry pits can be used in pellet stoves to heat homes.

As a hidden treasure of nature, cherries are packed with antioxidants, vitamins, and fibers. Tart or sour cherries and sweet cherries are rich in anthocyanins and quercitin, antioxidants which play a role in reducing total body inflammation, contribute to heart health, and help fight free radicals.  Being a good source of vitamins A and C, they help to strengthen the body’s defenses and improve overall health.  Studies have also shown that tart cherry juice may soothe sore muscles, speed recovery after working out, and help with sleep. A cup of cherries pack three grams of fiber and 87 calories (tart cherries).

Most people think of sweet desserts like cherry pie when they think of using cherries in recipes, but cherries can be used in savory dishes, too.  While fresh cherries are not plentiful in February, cherries are readily available dried, canned, frozen, freeze-dried and as juice; all can be used in a variety of ways.

Here are some ideas, beyond sweets, of ways to include cherries in our diet:
-Add frozen cherries to a smoothie for breakfast
-Add tart cherry juice to a smoothie for a post-workout recovery drink
-Add dried or fresh cherries to oatmeal, yogurt, or salads
-Eat a handful of dried cherries for a snack or add them to a snack mix
-Use fresh or frozen cherries and/or cherry juice in sauces.

One of my favorite recipes for using the frozen tart cherries and juice from our trees is Tart Cherry Pork:

1 pound boneless pork chops
Olive oil
¾ cup cherry juice (may also use pomegranate or cranberry juice)
1/3  cup tart cherries
¼ cup balsamic vinegar
1 tsp corn starch
1 tsp water
Brown the chops in oil in a skillet, 4 minutes on each side.  Remove chops and keep warm.  Add juice, cherries, and balsamic vinegar to skillet.  Bring to a boil; reduce heat and cook for 2 minutes.  Combine corn starch and water and stir into juice.  Bring to a boil and cook for 1 minute.  Add pork back to the skillet and simmer in sauce for 2 minutes.  Serve pork with sauce.

Now by knowing a little trivia about cherries and adding cherries to our life, there’s no reason “life can’t be a bowl full of cherries,” right?

Marlene Geiger

Marlene Geiger

I am a graduate of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln with a BS in Home Economics Education and Extension and from Colorado State University with a MS in Textiles and Clothing. I enjoy spending time with family and friends, gardening, quilting, cooking, sewing, and sharing knowledge and experience with others.

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