Preventive Maintenance: Good time to be a cherry picker

by Karen Bowen

Are you looking for something sweet to snack on while you’re travelling the roads this summer? Right now, cherry season is well on its way and they’re a sweet and popular choice.

There are over 1,000 varieties of cherries grown in 20 countries worldwide, each with a pretty short growing season.

Throughout the world, 900,000 acres produce 3.8 billion pounds of sweet cherries each year. And no wonder, cherries taste great and are great for you!

They’re full of Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Thiamin, Riboflavin, Niacin, Potassium and Beta Carotene. Cherries also have 2.7 grams of pectin (a soluble fiber that helps control blood cholesterol levels), and quercetin (a flavinoids that works as an antioxidant and fights cancer).

As well, cherries have a bit of protein, phosphorus, iron, fat and calcium.

Since one cup of fresh sweet cherries (with pits) has only 84 calories, they are a healthy snack and won’t pack on the pounds like other sweet treats.

Dig in during this time of year. Because they are 80% water, eating cherries will give you some extra water you need in this heat.

Eating cherries won’t just keep you hydrated, but they have even been seen to help a number of health conditions.

Have you got gout in your big toe? Cherries and cherry juice may be the remedy.

According to a 1950 study of 12 people with gout, eating one-half pound (about 227g) of cherries or drinking an equivalent amount of cherry juice every day prevented attacks of gout.

Any kind of cherry will work – black, sweet yellow and red sour cherries.

Since that study, there have been many anecdotal reports of cherry juice as an effective treatment for the pain and inflammation of gout. The ingredient, cyanidin, not only appears to fight gout, but arthritis as well.

Other studies have shown that another ingredient in cherries helps prevent tooth decay (keep brushing anyway.)

If you’ve decided to indulge in this delicious treat, you’ve got another decision to make. What kind should you try?

There are lots of sweet cherries to choose from.

The most popular of all is the Bing variety, a large, round extra-sweet cherry with purple-red flesh and a deep crimson skin that almost looks black when it’s fully ripe.

These are available from late May through early August, with their peak in June and July.

Some other varieties available at the beginning and the end of the season include bright red Lamberts and dark-skinned Vans. These are usually softer and less sweet than Bing.

Other tasty varieties include the mild-flavoured, yellow or pink-skinned Ranier (which is actually sweeter than the Bing), and the Queen Anne, which is yellow with tinges of red. My favourite, the Brown Windsor, is brown in colour and stays firm for quite a long time when stored in the fridge.

You can eat cherries in desserts like cobblers, pies, fruitcake and jam (but remember that these last options add some extra sugar and calories). Or, take advantage of this time of year, and eat them fresh from the tree.

If you’re eating your cherries fresh, choose and store them with care. Perfect cherries should be large (one inch or more in diameter), glossy, hard, plump and intensely coloured.

When digging through the cherry bin at the grocery store, be sure to pick each cherry by hand, one or two at a time, selecting only the best.

Also, if there are a lot of damaged cherries in the container, think about shopping somewhere else, as mould and rot will spread through the batch rapidly.

As well, check carefully for bruises, soft spots or cuts, and pitch those that are sticky because juice from other cherries has been leaking on them, so they’ll likely spoil quickly.

The stems should be intact, fresh and green (darkened stems tell you that the cherries are either old or haven’t been stored properly).

Like their season, cherries themselves are rather short-lived. Since they spoil easily and don’t keep well when it’s warm, look for cherries that have been kept cool and moist.

When you get them home, store unwashed cherries in the refrigerator, loosely packed in plastic bags (to avoid bruising) or pour them into a shallow pan in a single layer and cover with plastic wrap. When it’s time to eat them, simply rinse them under cold water and drain. Then enjoy!

When you take them on the road, keep them in a plastic bag in your cooler or portable fridge. Make sure they stay cool or you should eat them right away.

If you want cherries all year round, you can even extend their season by freezing them since they keep well in the freezer for up to one year.

At this time of year, it’s fine to be a cherry-picker.

– Karen Bowen is a professional health and nutrition consultant and she can be reached by e-mail at

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