Somewhere in a family album there's a photo of me as a small child in a cool Summer dress, cherry stains all over the front of me, and my mouth and cheeks bulging with my favourite Summer treat.
Yay! It's cherry season now and Aussie cherries are available from early November through to late February. Australia produces an average of 12,000 tonnes of cherries annually, worth around $120 million, and producers are aiming for an average of 15,000 tonnes by 2015. The industry is spread over six states, with around 2,845 hectares under production and 485 grower enterprises currently operating.
In New South Wales, Young is a key production area (Cherry Festival coming up!), as well as Orange and Bathurst. Other significant areas include the Dandenong Ranges and Goulburn Valley near Melbourne, the Adelaide Hills and the Riverland area of South Australia, the Huon Valley and Derwent Valley in Tasmania, and the elevated southwest region of Western Australia. Visit your local cherry farm and buy direct, or pick your own fruit. It's a great day out.
Cherries are a power-packed food loaded with anthocyanins, the antioxidants responsible for their deep red colour; and other flavanoid antioxidants such as quercetin and kaempferol. They also provide a good source of Vitamin C, as well as potassium and fibre. And they're a guilt-free indulgence, with only 250 kilojoules per 100 grams!
Cherries are picked fresh from the tree and do not continue to ripen once picked, so make sure you choose plump glossy cherries with smooth, unblemished skin. And look for bright green stems that are in good condition.
Keep your cherries cool and dry to preserve the freshness, quality and shelf life. Store them in the fridge in an air tight container. There's lots of ways to use cherries, other than eating them fresh from the hand. Bake them, preserve them, or cool off with this refreshing Cherry Sangria.
750mls red or white wine (a spicy shiraz or sauvignon blanc)
1/4 cup caster sugar
1 litre lemonade
300g pitted cherries, halved
Combine the wine and sugar in a large jug. Thinly slice the orange, lemon and lime and add to the wine mixture. Stir in the cherries and chill for at least an hour (or up to three days). When you are ready to serve the Sangria, add the lemonade and serve over lots of ice. Alternatively, serve the wine and the lemonade in separate carafes and allow people to mix the Sangria themselves, to their taste. Serves 6.