The cherry, a small tree fruit with a stone, is in the rose family, and was brought to the United States from Europe by the early settlers. In the United States, sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are harvested mainly in the Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah and Montana), where the season runs from June through August. Tart cherries (Prunus cerasus) are primarily grown in northern Michigan, where the peak harvest time is usually the third week of July, according to the Michigan Department of Agriculture. Other states that grow cherries include Wisconsin, New York, Pennsylvania, Colorado and Ohio.
Cherry fruits are round, except for a slight depression where they meet the stem. Although yellow and white varieties exist, the skin of the cherry is usually pale to deep red, to almost black. Depending on the cultivar, cherry trees range from 6 to 30 feet high, and have reddish-brown bark featuring distinctive horizontal lines called lenticels. Sweet cherries are grown mainly for fresh eating, while tart cherries are usually canned, frozen, or processed to make jams and pies.
Sweet cherries are one of the most rapidly maturing fruits. They are mature and ready for picking within 60 days of the tree's blossoming. Cherries do not ripen well once they are off the tree, so they must be picked when they are ripe and quickly brought to market. The United States produces more than 650 million lbs. of cherries annually. Most tart cherries are harvested mechanically, using tree shakers to drop the fruit onto canvasses. Sweet cherries intended for fresh eating are harvested by hand.
Nutritional Value and Health Benefits
One cup of cherries contains approximately 260 mg of potassium, which is known to reduce the risk of hypertension and stroke. Cherries also contain cyanidin, a substance that studies suggest has cancer-fighting properties, according to Northwest Cherries. Recent research suggests that cherries have natural anti-inflammation properties, says ChooseCherries.com. An Oregon Health and Science University study showed that drinking cherry juice twice a day during the week before and the day of a long-distance race significantly reduced runners' muscle pain.
Of the sweet cherries, the Bing variety, which got its name from the orchards' Chinese workmen, is the most famous. Sweet Ranier cherries are yellow, with a bright red blush. Together with the Lambert variety, Bing and Ranier varieties account for more than 95 percent of the cherries produced in the Northwest. The most often grown tart variety in Michigan is Montmorency; a new tart variety recently developed at Michigan State University is called Balaton.
National Cherry Festival
Traverse City, Michigan, refers to itself as "The Cherry Capital of the World." Each July the community sponsors an eight-day National Cherry Festival, attracting thousands to celebrate the fruit's harvest. CherryFestival.org describes the activities, which include pie-eating and cherry pit spitting contests, a Cherry Royale parade, and the crowning of a National Cherry Queen.