They are the highlight of summer: peaches, plums, apricots, and of course, cherries. If you ask me, six months out of the year are spent just waiting for stone fruit season. Summer is synonymous with these juicy, pitted fruits, but pinning down the exact time for peak ripeness can be tricky. And the only thing worse than biting into firm, sour, under-ripe fruit is biting into mushy, nearly rotten fruit. So read on to learn everything you need to know about cherry season.
When Are Cherries in Season?
The precise start of cherry season depends on where you live, but generally, you’ll start to see fresh cherries popping up at farmers’ markets and produce stands around mid-May. A few weeks later, around early June, is when you’ll likely see in-season and affordable bags in your local grocery store. Once July rolls around, we are in full swing — this is the absolute peak of cherry season. The picking season for cherries tends to fall off a bit towards August, and by the middle of the month, it’s over as quickly as it came.
Cherries grow best on the West Coast, so if you happen to live in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and California in particular, you’ll likely get cherries a few weeks before the rest of the country. The most common type of cherry consumed in the U.S. is the Bing cherry; this is the variety a lot of us think of when we think of cherries.
For many living in the Midwest or on the East Coast, cherries have to be shipped from the opposite side of the country, and so it seems like cherry season hits a little bit later in the summer. To offset the shipping cost, cherries tend to be a more expensive fruit, especially at the onset of the season. Generally, the price goes down as the season progresses and supply is more plentiful. Grabbing a bag or two of cherries at first sight might be hard to resist, but holding off for a few weeks will likely save you a few bucks. Waiting until mid-June to start purchasing also ensures that you’re getting the best quality for the price.
Why Wait for Cherry Season?
Eating seasonally means you’re enjoying produce at the peak of its ripeness. Sure, you can probably get cherries year-round at some supermarkets, but they’re likely going to have a disappointing flavor during the off-season — not to mention, an exorbitant price tag.
Cherries are unique in that they’re among the last trees to bloom in the spring but one of the first to be ready for harvest. And once they’re ripe, they need to be picked as soon as possible, because cherries are also a favorite snack among numerous bird species.
What To Do With Cherries
If you don’t eat them all on the way home, there are many ways to enjoy these bite-sized beauties, both in sweet desserts and in savory cherry recipes.
Cherry Dessert Recipes
Dishes like cherry pie and cobbler are summer barbecue mainstays, and for good reason! Incorporating fresh, peak-season cherries into baked goods elevates the quality from good to mind-blowing when compared to the canned variety. Taste and see for yourself with one of these top-rated cherry desserts:
Vanilla Cherry Ice Cream
Classic Cherries Jubilee
Cherry Dump Pudding Cake
Best Cherry Cheesecake
Cherry Pie Filling
Sweet Polish Cherry Cake
Cherry Drink Recipes
You can also use fresh cherries to create delicious, thirst-quenching drinks. For example, to make an easy and refreshing summer cocktail, try muddling a few pitted cherries in a glass with a pinch of sugar and a squeeze of fresh lime juice; next, stir in one ounce of your favorite bourbon or rum, along with some ice, and top it off with lime-flavored seltzer water. Too simple, right? Here are a few other cherry beverage recipes (alcoholic and non-alcoholic) worth trying:
Door County Cherry Bounce
Cherry Ginger Infused Tea
Very Cherry Smoothie
Savory Cherry Recipes
Of course, you shouldn’t stop at sweet recipes. Cherries are phenomenal in savory applications, as they provide a vibrant complement to salty and umami-rich flavors. Cherries shine particularly brightly when paired with duck and pork, but you’ll find that a homemade cherry barbecue sauce makes most any grilled meat even tastier. And roasting cherries in the oven is something you’ll never regret come dinner time, doing so caramelizes all of their natural sugars, coaxing out their deepest flavor. Here are a few excellent savory applications for using cherries:
Pork Loin Chops with Cherry-Apple Stuffing
Pork Chops With Black Cherry Sauce
Cocoa Cherry Pork
In addition to being a delicious, seasonal treat, adding a few fresh cherries to your diet can be good for you. Cherries are low in calories and loaded with fiber, vitamin C, and antioxidants.
Cherry Types With Shorter Seasons
Although Bing cherries are easy enough to come by across the U.S. in summer months, some varieties of cherry are a bit more exclusive with their availability. Here’s what you should know about seeking out Rainier and sour cherries.
Some local growers in other parts of the nation may have small patches of cherry trees, but varieties like the coveted Rainier cherry almost exclusively grow in the Pacific Northwest and need to be shipped to other areas. These impossibly sweet, yellowy-blush cherries are less acidic than red cherries. And unfortunately, Rainier cherries have an even shorter harvest season, limited to just June and July.
Sour cherries have an even smaller harvest window than Rainier cherries, sometimes just a few weeks in mid- to late-June. Sour cherries aren’t often found in stores, so farmers’ markets, local produce marts, or even U-pick farms (if you have some in your area) are your best bet for snagging this distinctive variety.