By Elizabeth Holm
When I was growing up, there were two sour cherry trees on our property. As soon as the cherries were ripe, my dad would hand me a metal bucket and send me climbing up the trees to pick them. It was so fun to see how high I could go to get as many cherries as possible. Climbing without a ladder meant I had to find broken off branches to hang the bucket so I could hold on with one hand and pick with the other. One bucket full was enough cherries for my mother to make a pie that day and freeze cherries for a pie to be made in February, according to tradition, on George Washington’s birthday.
Of course, I never knew that those cherries that tasted so tart when first picked and so sweet in a delicious pie, were also good for me! Sour (also know as tart) cherries contain anthocyanins that are responsible for the cherry’s bright red color and have been shown to inhibit enzymes that cause inflammation. Studies of athletes and older individuals have found that sour cherry juice can reduce post-exercise inflammation, oxidative stress and speed recovery. Anthocyanins have also been shown to lower cholesterol and may reduce the risk for heart disease. In addition, sour cherries contain melatonin, a substance involved in our circadian rhythms that helps us sleep at night. Research suggests that eating sour cherries may promote longer and better quality sleep.
The good news is that you don’t need your own sour cherry trees to pick cherries. Several farms in Northern Virginia have sour cherries you can pick yourself. Picking started last weekend, but the season only lasts for a couple of weeks. You can buy cherries already picked this week from Virginia growers and through early July from Pennsylvania growers selling at our local Farmers’ Markets.
You also do not need to drink sour cherry juice. A slice of sour cherry pie is equivalent in anthocyanin potency to a glass of cherry juice and much more enjoyable. It is the perfect “ruby red” dessert for a picnic in June.
Sour Cherry Pie recipe
1 quart sour (tart) cherries
1 cup sugar
¼ cup minute tapioca
2 pie crusts for a 9-inch pie
Instructions: Rinse and remove the stems from the cherries. Pit the cherries using a cherry pitter or squeeze the cherries with your fingers to separate the pits from the cherries and their juice. Combine the 4 cups pitted cherries, 1 cup sugar and ¼ cup tapioca. Let stand for 15 minutes. Line a 9-inch pie plate with a pie crust. Fill with the cherry mixture. Create a lattice top using the second crust. Seal the crust and flute the edge. Bake in a preheated 400 degree oven for 45 minutes or until the juices form bubbles that burst slowly. Cool and serve.
The author is a registered dietician and nutritionist in private practice in Alexandria and can be reached at [email protected].