It's Whole Foods' 3rd Annual Cherry Festival. It kicked off this past weekend with a steel drum band and cherries in almost every department -- produce, cheese, meat, beer, juice bar, deli and bakery.
Whole Foods Market celebrates this very short season by going all out. They have three types of cherries from Washington and recipes to take you from breakfast to late-night dessert. Buck the rule of never grocery shopping hungry and go to Whole Foods ready to snack through every department. Cherry-laden recipe samples are abundant and very filling.
Some friends of mine and I held a cherry tasting and prepared some of the recipes offered by Whole Foods Market. The three types of cherries are Rainier, Orondo Ruby and Conventional Washington Reds. We started with the Rainier. Its color is pale yellow with blushes of pink and red. It is a firm cherry with very light-toned flesh. The taste has a faint honey flavor, and the darker ones, the sweetest, are closer to peach or apricot. Because of their light sweetness and delicate flavors, we concluded that these are not cooking cherries. Their delicate flavors would be lost in any cooking process. Best to enjoy the Rainiers fresh, from a big bowl.
Our second cherry was the Orondo Ruby, a very close cousin to the Rainier but meant to be sweeter. It is also a firm cherry with pale flesh; however, its skin is a bit redder with less yellow. We found this cherry to be more on the tart side than sweet. One person said it made her mouth pucker. It has a full, meaty finish with a concentrated "cherriness." This cherry would be great in cold preparations -- desserts and salads. It comes on timid but finishes strong, so the less preparation, the more strong cherry finish.
Our final cherry tasting was the Conventional Washington Red. It has a softer texture with pink flesh and deep-red-to-almost-black coloring. These cherries, tart and slightly sweet, are the typical cherry everyone thinks of when cherries are mentioned. They have a deep, heavy cherry flavor that would hold up to any cooking preparation. So the Conventional Red is the cherry to pick for sauces, risottos and meat dishes. The flavor is not lost in the heat.
Whole Foods Market had a simple fruit salad with Conventional Reds, mangoes, pineapple and lime juice. It is delicious and refreshing on a hot afternoon. They also displayed a party spread of plain goat cheese covered in Dalmatia sour cherry spread. It was so good on crackers paired with a cherry beer, Chapeau Kriek Lambic. Our favorite cherry beverage was a Cherry Spritzer Whole Foods concocted. It had Cherri Bundi tart cherry juice, orange juice, lemon juice, maraschino cherries with their juice and sparkling water. We added Henriot champagne to the light, sweet, tart and refreshing juice, and that took it over the top. It's the perfect summer cocktail. You could also add vodka or wine and make a sangria.
Whole Foods Market is offering a cherry chipotle sausage, cherry fire-glazed beef tenderloin, cherry pies galore and cherry pie shooters. These were the greatest dessert idea I've heard of lately. They took a small scoop of cheery pie and put it in a six-ounce cup and topped it with fresh whip cream. It was the perfect dessert amount, and it kept you from eating a whole cherry pie. Well, unless you buy a dozen and eat them all in a day.
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There are several tasty-sounding recipes that incorporate cherries that Whole Foods Market has developed - spiced pickled cherries, brown rice and cherry chicken salad, skillet jam, and cherry and wild rice salad with spinach and walnuts.
Cherry season is very short, so be sure and take advantage of it before it passes and try some of the Whole Foods recipes and beverages.