Dark sweet cherries are not usually used for cooking because they are such a wonderful fresh eating fruit and because, in the past, the tart fruit has been considered better for pies and other cooking.
But although sour cherries have always been considered best for cooking, the sweet ones, usually the Bing cherries, are more plentiful. In some areas it is impossible to find fresh sour cherries.
Since the sweet ones are available, many people are finding that they are delicious when cooked and make especially colorful, attractive dishes.
Sour cherries have a wonderful flavor like that of natural, wild cherries, but today they are used almost exclusively in processed products such as canned pie filling.
They rarely reach the fresh market except in areas where they are grown, but you may sometimes find them at a specialty store or a large specialty market garden or orchard.
Sour cherries packed in water with no sugar added are available in some markets, but the process of canning, while maintaining the color of the cherries and the right balance of acidity between cherries and the water they are packed in has yet to be perfected.
Freezing tart cherries is becoming more popular, and some small private growers in the Midwest are freezing them in quantites of 5 and 10 pounds for retail use.
In areas where tart cherries grow, such as Michigan, upstate New York, and Pennsylvania, there are orchards where you may pick your own, and some places will even wash, pit, and pack the cherries on ice for you.
When cooking Bing, Lambert, and other sweet cherries, you'll find they require an unexpectedly small amount of sugar. However, the sour cherries will need more, and you must taste the food several times during preparation for sweetness.
When you shop for cherries, look for very dark shiny fruit that are plump and firm. Brown spots are difficult to see on the dark skin but if you see any, discard the fruit. If the skin is dull, wrinkled, or moist and leaking, the fruit is past its peak.
One pound of stemmed, unpitted cherries equals three cups. One pound of stemmed, pitted cherries equals 2 1/2 cups.
If your recipe calls for a quart of stemmed, unpitted cherries, you will need 1 1/4 to 1 1/2 pounds.
It is necessary to refrigerate cherries in plastic bags without washing them since they lose their plumpness when left where the moisture can evaporate.
Don't let the problem of pits deter you from cooking with fresh cherries. There are several good cherry pitters available. Small ones that pit one cherry at a time cost around $5, but there are some larger ones that cost as much as $ 25.