Crop Spot: Cherries

Michigan is known for its cherry production, especially of tart Montmorency cherries. In fact, Michigan produces so many cherries–and other fruits!–that the western part of the state, especially the Northwest region, is sometimes referred to as the “Fruit Belt” or “Fruit Ridge.” July is peak cherry season, so now is the time to find and enjoy these delicious fruits. While 2021 has been a challenging year for cherries, you can still find these fruits available at farmers markets across the state, and you can pick your own!

In the Garden

Cherry trees are very susceptible to a late spring frost, so if you’re interested in planting your own cherry trees, wait until mid-May or June. They like lots of sunlight and soil that drains well. Additionally, these trees should be pruned in late winter to encourage new growth in the spring and remove any dead or overcrowded branches. Most cherry trees will begin bearing fruit in their fourth year, although dwarf cherry trees can begin to bear fruit earlier. A healthy cherry tree can yield 30 to 50 quarts of cherries each year! Sweet cherries can be eaten right away, while tart cherries are usually used in baking, preserving and drying–although plenty of people eat them right off the trees, too!

In Your Medicine Cabinet

Cherries are not just delicious, they’re also good for you! Cherries are an excellent source of fiber and potassium. Vitamin C and polyphenols, which are also found in cherries, both have antioxidant properties that help prevent a variety of chronic illnesses and reduce inflammation. Tart cherries contain melatonin, a hormone that helps regulate sleep schedules and promotes healthier sleep. Tart cherries and tart cherry juice have also shown to help lower total cholesterol. Cherries are often dried or frozen, so you can get these health benefits year round.

In the Kitchen

There are hundreds of ways to use cherries in cooking and baking!

You can start simple with an easy cherry jam that’s great on toast or muffins, or as a topping for yogurt or ice cream.

If you have a sweet tooth or love to bake, try this recipe for Tart Cherry Pie with a yummy almond oatmeal streusel crumble from Lorri Smith of Peace Pie in Marquette.

A spiced cherry chutney with allspice, cardamom and ginger is excellent on a variety of meats or as a spread for a charcuterie board!

And don’t forget, dried cherries are an excellent substitute for raisins in baked goods or trail mix!

How will you be celebrating cherry season this year?

Elizabeth Pearce is the Operations Assistant at TLD and is based in Ann Arbor. When she worked on a farm, cherries were her favorite thing to harvest! Send questions to [email protected]