Naming names: Cherries you cannot miss

Paul J. Richards / AFP

Bite into a great cherry and get an amazing hit of sugar, sweet almond and squeaky-plump fruit. When the cherry is one of the especially sexy varieties, you taste all that, along with lingering flickers of spice and honey.

Trust me, this is not over the top. The quality is out there. And when it comes to buying cherries, if you know your fruit's name, you'll be ahead of the game in flavor.

For instance, the Bing, found everywhere, is straightforward sweet. On the other hand, the Rainier and the Royal Rainier, two more elusive types, can be transcendental. In that same elusive category are California's Royal Eddies, and Royal Helens. Just behind these in outlandish goodness are the Queen Anne's, Lapins, the Lamberts and the Bentons.

Not all of these show up in supermarkets, but if you run across any, don't ignore them. Just taste before buying. Cherries keep about a week in the fridge if packed In a plastic bag with holes poked in it.

If you are out for a cherry experience beyond the beyond and money is no object, several folks are fast-shipping just-picked cherries directly from orchards. I've tasted the Rainier cherries from ChefShop.com. They send them from a family farm in Washington state and they are unstoppably fine. For stone fruits, especially peaches and nectarines, Frog Hollow Farm delivers excellent quality. As for other purveyors, I can't speak from experience.

CHERRIES, HANDS-ON

For a lavish take on a summer soda fountain classic, take a look at my recipe for Hot Fudge Double Chocolate Cherry Sundae. Double the quantity of cherries for a true cherry blow out.

Cherry Pie Trick: Eliminate soggy crusts with a thin sheet of almond paste over the bottom pastry of your cherry pie. Almond paste lifts cherries to a new level. To do this, partially bake your bottom crust (lined with foil and weighted with raw rice) at 400º for about 8 minutes, or until it is starting to crisp. Gently remove the lining and cool. Roll out a thin sheet of almond paste (use powdered sugar to keep it from sticking to your countertop), line the baked crust with it. Add the cherry filling and a top crust, if using, and bake.

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