From ancient Greece to the gym bag

Friday, August 5, 2011, Vol. 35, No. 31

The fabled cherry. The poetic color of luscious lips, and just as sweet. Their history started somewhere in the Persia-Armenia region, and in just two varietals from which all cultivated cherries are descended: Prunus avium (sweet) and Prunus cerasus (sour). Today it is estimated that some 900 sweet varieties (ranging in color from yellow to black) and some 300 sour varieties are grown.

Sweet cherries spread to ancient Greece and the Mediterranean by 300 BCE. Theophrastus, successor of Aristotle, mentions them. And Pliny the Elder (1st century AD) mentions that some eight varieties were being cultivated in Italy and that the Romans were using them as far north as Britain, where they carried their sweetness to the New World in the 17th century.

Beyond the huge crops in Michigan, California, Oregon and Washington, American wild cherries include the chokecherry, the pin cherry and the wild black cherry. Sour cherries have spread farther north and are a specialty of Germany and Scandinavia.

Most sweet cherries will produce fruit only after cross-pollination of honey bees. Sours are mostly self fertilizing. These are the main classes:

Sours: Amarelles (light colored), including mascaras or maraschinos; morellos or griottes (black in color), made into kirsch


Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,

Full and fair ones; come and buy.

If so be you ask me where

They do grow, I answer: There,

Where my Julia’s lips do smile;

There’s the land, or cherry-isle,

Whose plantations fully show

All the year where cherries grow.

– Robert Herrick, 1648

Sweets: Mazzards (small black fruits); geans (soft, juicy flesh); bigarreaus (firm, dry flesh), including the “white” Napoleon, Bing and the Ranier

Hybrid Sweet-Sours: Dukes or May dukes: originally grown in Médoc, France.

What’s unique about cherries is that they contain specific anthocyanins 1 and 2, which have been shown to relieve muscle and joint soreness.

Tart cherries are available as dried, frozen and juice, so they are extremely versatile and always available, making them the ideal power food to bring with you anytime, anywhere, for any exercise occasion. Try these variations:

  • Dried cherries make a good grab-and-go snack.
  • Try the “power berry” trail mix energy cookie with dried cherries, flaxseed, oats and almonds.
  • Add dried cherries to a bowl of whole grain oatmeal for a breakfast boost
  • Create a quick yogurt parfait with vanilla yogurt, granola and dried cherries, like the “redeye” breakfast parfait.
  • Enjoy a cherry oatmeal muffin for a breakfast or afternoon snack.
  • Add dried cherries to a fresh spinach salad with walnuts for a light post-exercise meal.
  • Stir up whole grain couscous with grilled chicken, dried cherries and a splash of cherry juice for added flavor.
  • Rehydrate and refresh with the “red alert,” a mix of cherry juice and coconut water, a natural isotonic known for its hydration benefits.
  • Recharge with a cherry smoothie: a triple hit of cherries, antioxidants and protein.
  • Pack a gym bag with a single-serve bottle of powerful 100 percent cherry juice or a cherry juice blend.

Cherry Tart


7 oz  graham crackers

3 oz  almonds, toasted

4 oz  butter

1/2 C  brown sugar

Combine all ingredients in food processor.  Pulse until mixture resembles crumbs and begins sticking together. Press into 9" tart pan with removable bottom. Bake at 350 F for 10 minutes.  Let cool.


8 Cups  cherries, fresh, pitted

2 Cups sugar

6 Tablespoons cornstarch

3/4 Cup amaretto liqueur

Cook cherries, sugar and half amaretto over low heat 10 minutes. Combine remaining amaretto and cornstarch in small bowl. Add the mixture to the pan and let cook two more minutes stirring frequently, until thickened.