In the sweet category, Bings ripen first, followed shortly by Rainiers. You will typically see them in the market together, side-by-side. The heart of the sweet cherry season extends from mid-June through mid-August.
Fresh sour or pie cherries (typically Montmorency, and if you get lucky, Balaton) are sporadically available from the first of July through mid-August.
Rainer and Bing sweet cherries
There are numerous varieties of sweet cherries grown in the Northwest. Most important commercially is the Bing–a large, firm, juicy, glossy, deep red variety. Other commercial sweet cherries include Chelans, Lapins, Rainiers, Skeenas, Sweethearts, and Tietons. At local farmers markets and roadside stands, you may also find Attika, Gold, Index, Queen Anne, Royal Ann, and Sandra Rose sweet cherries.
Sour cherries, or pie cherries as they are often called, whether Montmorency or Balaton, are grown on both sides of the Cascades and are easiest to find at local farms, roadside stands, and farmers markets. The lion’s share of the Montmorency crop, which is 95% of all cherries grown in the Northwest, goes to canning and freezing operations, so supplies for the home cook can be skimpy.
Cherries are fully ripe when picked, so this is not usually a problem at selection time. Look for plump, firm, and shiny cherries with the stems attached. Pass over cherries with open cuts, bruises, or shriveling stems.
Refrigeration with a high humidity setting is best for cherries, but they should not be stored wet. Refrigerate, unwashed, in a plastic bag for up to several days. The flavor will be more complex, however, if eaten at room temperature, so remove from the refrigerator an hour or so before serving.
Nothing to do but remove the pit–for which a cherry pitter is a necessity.
Sweet cherries are best eaten raw or at the most just gently warmed. Pie cherries, on the other hand, need to be sweetened and fully cooked.
Almond, apricot, Armagnac, balsamic vinegar, beef, black pepper, bourbon, brandy, brown sugar, caramel, chicken, chocolate (dark and white), cinnamon, clove, coconut, Cognac, corn, cornmeal, cream, cream cheese, duck, fresh ginger, goat cheese, Grand Marnier, green tea, Kirsch, lemon, lemon verbena, lime, Manchego, mascarpone, mint, nectarine, oatmeal, orange, peach, plum, pork, port, praline, vanilla.