Cherries: How to choose, store and prepare

Cherries are one of those foods that inspire a feeding frenzy on first sightings. When you spot the first cherries in the market, it's almost an automatic reaction that you're going to buy a whole bag and wolf them down. Often, though, you're better off waiting a little bit.

The first varieties that come in, mainly Burlat and Brooks, can be decent in perfect weather, but just a couple of weeks later you'll start to see Bings, and shortly after that the blushing Royal Anne and Rainier. These are cherries with real zing.

If it seems you're seeing more cherries than normal, you're right. California's cherry harvest has more than doubled since 1990 and is now close to that of Washington state, which usually begins about a month later.

How to choose: Look for cherries with firm, shiny, smooth skins. Usually the darker the red, the better (with the most common varieties, this is a sign of ripeness). Also check the stems, they should be green and flexible; they turn brown and woody in storage.

How to store: Refrigerate cherries in a tightly sealed plastic bag. They'll last a couple of weeks, at least theoretically (you'll probably eat them by then).

How to prepare: Pit the cherries and combine them in a skillet with some sugar. Let stand for 30 minutes or so to draw out some of the juices. Add a splash of orange juice and simmer over medium-high heat until the cherries soften and the juice thickens. Stir in a splash of balsamic vinegar. Serve over vanilla ice cream.