Cherries are among nature’s most delicious, juicy and accessible fruit to quench our cravings during the summertime and not only. Fortunately, cherries have developed to reach over 1,200 types that are spread across the globe, giving an opportunity to almost every country on Earth to have a taste of these wonderful nuggets of goodness.
Cherries are believed to have originated somewhere between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea and they’ve been among us for so long, that modern recorded history was not even around to record its origin. Having said this, it’s important to know that ‘cherries’ derive their name from the Turkish town of Cerasus and that Turkey remains the largest cherry production region in the world.
What helped cherries spread across the world was the incessant and tremendous migration of the colonists during the 1600’s. Cherries quickly made their way to the United States as well, where they are now easily recognizable as part of two categories: sour cherries and sweet cherries.
How Can You Use Cherries?
Cherries are incredibly versatile fruits that can be used in a myriad of ways. You can either eat them raw straight away, indulging in their juiciness while they are in full season or incorporate them in your morning yogurt, together with other nutritious antioxidant fruits. Or if you like experimenting in the kitchen, you can venture into sprinkling pitless cherries all over your salad and see how that tickles your palate.
Just as well, you can press them and turn them into juice, that’s readily drinkable and a better, healthier alternative to fizzy drinks or so-called healthy juices you can find in supermarkets.
If you’d like to polish your cooking skills, you can even turn cherries into compote or delicious jams, that you can spread on your morning toast, to be enjoyed together with coffee or tea. You can also take it a step further by incorporating them into scrumptious baked goodies, such as cakes, tarts, cookies – the list is virtually endless.
As cherries evolved to be such an integral part of our fruit affinities all across the world, people had more and more time to deal with every single type of cherries there are out there. They quickly found out what distinguishes them from other types of cherries, what their specificities are, how their taste differs, how they can use each type of cherries and how to store fresh cherries.
Thankfully, all these centuries of first-hand knowledge is returning to us now in order to help us understand how we can better make use of cherries and how to preserve them, so they can last longer.
How Do You Pick or Purchase Cherries?
Before we can talk about cherries’ shelf life, we need to understand how we can best pick them, in order to get the best possible quality there is. For this, it’s important to be able to distinguish between the most popular types of cherries there are.
Of course, the best way to see if the cherries you have your eye on are worth picking or purchasing is to taste them yourself. However if you don’t have this possibility, make sure you check their color. Sweet cherries tend to get a dark red when they ripen, so it’s important to establish and inspect their depth of color. Their stems should be a bright green, but it’s also safe to consume them even if they don’t have their stems. When it comes to texture and volume, you can expect your sweet red cherries to be plump and firm when they are ripe.
On the other hand, there are also Rainier cherries that tend to be a source of confusion to many people, since they ripen into a reddish-yellow color. With them, you can also expect less firmness than with other types of cherries. If you notice reddish blushes or brown flecks on them, rest assured they’re only indicators of the amount of sun exposure the cherries had, which in turns indicates their accumulated sugar levels.
How Can You Store Cherries?
Everyone who has picked or bought cherries had to deal with a pretty restrictive cherries shelf life, if they kept them at room temperature. At best, cherries maintain their qualities for about two days at most, when un-refrigerated. So the question that naturally arises from this insight is: ’Do cherries have to be refrigerated?’. The answer is a resounding ‘yes’.
If you’re wondering how to keep cherries fresh, refrigerating cherries is actually key in maintaining them like this in order to fully enjoy their health benefits, which are indeed tremendous. Their high antioxidant content will help protect against the body’s natural cellular aging process, while the other nutrients they’re packed with will help support recovery from athletic endeavors, will protect against inflammation, will help regulate your sleep-wake cycle and will vitamin-ize you, so you can get a healthy immune system.
If you want to enjoy your fresh cherries for as long as possible, do not hesitate to pack them in a plastic bag and refrigerate them accordingly. It’s indicated that you don’t wash them before you store them away in the refrigerator, since the water can spoil these beautiful fruits. Be sure to also discard any moldy or bruised cherries before you refrigerate them.
So how long do cherries last if you keep them refrigerated? The time frame here will vary depending on the temperature, refrigerating conditions and types of cherries, but it’s safe to say they can last anywhere between four and ten days.
So what other cherries storage options are there? Fortunately, cherries can also be easily frozen and taken out whenever you feel the craving or need to incorporate them in a dessert. The best part about it is that, regardless of the type of cherries you’ve chosen, you can actually still enjoy them within 10-12 months since they were frozen.
Before you freeze them, you can first remove the pits if you want to, or remove them when consuming them at a later date. The most efficient way to freeze them is to first spread them evenly, in a single layer, across a baking sheet, on a tray, after which you can easily place them in the bag or container that goes into the freezer.
Having said this, there’s another way in which you can store cherries and still enjoy them at a later date – you can dry them right up using the oven method.
First of all, you will need to properly wash them and leave them some time to drain. Then you need to remove and discard the stems. After this, it’s most essential that you remove the pits of the cherries, even though it can be quite a tedious job.
Cut all your pitted cherries in half and then spread them evenly on a baking sheet, ensuring there’s enough room between each half, so that air can circulate properly between them. What you want to do next is to put your cherries in the oven at a temperature of 150 F / 65 C degrees. If you want them to dry properly, instead of dehydrating them, you will need to leave them in there somewhere around 10-12 hours – do not speed up the process by turning up the heat, this will only melt away their qualities and dehydrate them. You can tell they’re done when testing, at the end of the 10-12 hours, if they feel dry, yet leathery and pliable to the touch.
When you feel that their time is done, you can open the oven door and leave it like that for about 20 minutes, so the cherries can cool down. In order to make sure the cherries are properly dried up and ready for long-term storage, it’s indicated that you place them in tightly closed jars for a couple of days. If you notice condensation building up, then it means your cherries haven’t dried as much as they could have.
In order to further redistribute them and the moisture, you can shake the jars a couple of times per day for about a week. Once any residual moisture has been taken care of, you can safely store away your dried cherries in a place away from heat or direct heat. The amazing part about drying your cherries is that you can still enjoy them as healthy snacks for up to 6-12 months after you’ve oven dried them, on the condition that they’ve been properly stored during this time.
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that cherries, these extraordinary antioxidant fruits, are extremely versatile, ubiquitous, yet very perishable.
If you keep them at room temperature, they won’t last for very long – you can most likely still enjoy them for about a day or two at the most. The secret is to refrigerate fresh cherries in a plastic bag, so that they can preserve all their nutritious qualities and you can still enjoy them for anywhere between 4 and 10 days.
However if you want to go the long mile with cherries and make sure you still have them at your disposal whenever you want to bake a cake mid-winter, it’s recommended that you freeze them. The best part about it is that you will be able to enjoy your cherries for up to 10-12 months after you’ve stored them away in your freezer.
Lastly, there’s another way to preserve your cherries, so you can still enjoy them for up to 6-12 months in the future – oven drying them. If you do this correctly and store them properly afterwards, you will be able to count on readily having healthy snacks at your disposal that you can eat as they are or by adding them to your muesli.
All in all, cherries are perishable, yet enduring antioxidant fruits both under refrigeration, freezing and drying techniques. Be sure to get them fresh from a local organic producer, so you can make sure you’re preserving truly top-quality cherries. Of course, there’s always the possibility to buy them readily preserved, in which case you’ll have their expiration date written on the label. Regardless of how you choose to consume them, cherries are and forever will be some of nature’s healthiest and most cherished fruits.