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VOL. 39 | NO. 30 | Friday, July 24, 2015

Need a healthy snack? Go for the cherries

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One of the most beautiful signs of spring is a pink-flowering cherry tree promising succulent fruit in about two months. The only thing better is being able to enjoy the succulent fruit a few months later.

Now, according to recent research, there are more reasons to love this tree and the fruit it produces.

Science-based research shows that cherries pack a health-promoting punch. Ruby-red tart cherries are bursting with antioxidants that relieve the pain of arthritis and gout and might help prevent cancer and heart disease.

Not only do fresh, red cherries taste great, according to some doctors, just 20 cherries provide 25 milligrams of anthocyanins, which help to shut down the enzymes that cause tissue inflammation, so cherries can prevent many kinds of pain, including arthritic joint pain.

An apple a day or handful of cherries?

While an apple a day still keeps the doctor away, it seems that we need our cherries, too. So, maybe eat about a cup of cherries for breakfast and maybe some apple slices for lunch.

Tart cherries are bursting with antioxidants. Tests show that Montmorency tart cherries have high ORAC (oxygen radical absorption capacity) values. ORAC is a measurement of how many antioxidants are in a food product and how powerful they are. Antioxidants are the cancer-fighting agents found in fruits and vegetables. Scientific research has proven that antioxidants lower the risk of cancer, heart disease, and memory loss.

Double Cherry Pie

4 cups frozen, unsweetened tart cherries, or 2 (16-ounce) cans unsweetened tart cherries, well drained
1 cup dried tart cherries
1 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons quick-cooking tapioca or cornstarch
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
pastry for two-crust, nine-inch pie
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoon butter

Combine frozen cherries, dried cherries, granulated sugar, tapioca, and almond extract in a large mixing bowl; mix well. (It is not necessary to thaw the cherries.) Let cherry mixture stand 15 minutes. Line a nine-inch pie plate with pastry; fill with cherry mixture. Sprinkle with nutmeg. Dot with butter. Make a lattice top out of the remaining pastry. Seal and flute edge. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven about 1 hour, or until crust is golden brown and filling is bubbly. If necessary, cover edge of crust with aluminum foil to prevent over browning.

New studies indicate that cherries also have significant levels of melatonin, a potent antioxidant that kills free radicals, which are toxins believed to cause or worsen many diseases.

Tart cherry juice concentrate is used as an all-natural alternative for more than 70 million people suffering from arthritis and other chronic joint pain. They contain powerful antioxidants that relieve the pain of arthritis and gout, protect against cardiovascular disease, and inhibit cancer tumors. Some people claim headache relief and a better night’s sleep.

All the medical information above is based on the tart cherry.

Cherry history

Cherries are one of the world’s oldest cultivated fruits. The cherry tree, prunus avium, is native to Eastern Europe and western Asia, and is part of the Rose family.

Today, 90 percent of the commercial cherry crop is grown mostly in Michigan, California, Oregon and Washington. The most popular variety is the Bing cherry, developed by Seth Luelling in Milwaukie, Ore., in 1875. It’s allegedly named after his Manchurian foreman.

Cherry facts

  • It is believed that the sweet cherry originated in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas in Asia Minor around 70 B.C. The Romans introduced them to Britain in the first century A.D.
  • Cherries are drupes, or stone fruits, related to plums, peaches and nectarines.
  • The English colonists brought cherries to North America in the 1600s.
  • There are more than 1,000 varieties of cherries in the United States, but fewer than 10 are produced commercially.
  • On average, there are about 44 cherries in one pound.
  • In an average crop year, a sweet cherry tree will produce 800 cherries.
  • Seventy percent of the cherries produced in the United States are grown in the Northwest.
  • While they have long been a popular dessert fruit, cherries were used for their medicinal purposes in the 15th and 16th centuries.
  • During a preliminary study of daily cherry consumption back in 1950, researchers were the first to find that eating cherries might help relieve gout and arthritis attacks.
  • The world’s heaviest cherry was grown by Gerardo Maggipinto (Italy). It weighed 21.69 g (0.76 oz) on June 21, 2003. The cherry was presented at La Grande Ciliegia in Sammichele di Bari, Italy.
  • In Japan, where cherry blossoms are the national flower, the cherry represents beauty, courtesy and modesty.

Sweet and sour cherries

Usually eaten out of hand, sweet cherries are larger than sour cherries, and heart-shaped with firm flesh. They range in color from golden red-blushed Royal Ann, to dark red to purplish-black. Bing, Lambert, and tartarian are other popular dark cherries. Sweet cherries also work well in cooked dishes.

Sour, or tart, cherries are more globular in shape and have softer flesh.

The Early Richmond variety is the first available in late spring and is bright red in color, with the Montmorency soon following. So grab a handful of cherries and nibble away. Or better yet, make this wonderful Double Cherry Pie!

Kay Bona is an award-winning columnist and photographer. Contact her at kay@dailydata.com.

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