English cherries may be pricey, but they taste as good as sweets and keep gout at bay.
There's only one bad thing about cherries: they're expensive, so you never get to eat enough of them. But at this time of year, when the English crop is ripe and the European harvest is going full tilt, put austerity on hold for a week or two and binge on cherries.
Throughout the year, global sourcing offers us shipped southern hemisphere cherries that can have spent three or four weeks in cold storage. A freshly picked cherry, only recently cooled to remove its orchard heat, is quite a different proposition. Assuage your financial guilt by thinking of them as a health food. Who needs sweets when you can pop cherries into your mouth?
Why are cherries good for me?
Anthocyanins in cherries appear to have a marked anti-inflammatory action. Specifically, these compounds seem to be highly effective in treating gout, a condition that causes painful swelling in joints. Last year, a Boston Medical Center study reported that eating cherries reduces gout attacks by 35%. Cherries are also one of the few food sources of the hormone melatonin, which regulates sleep patterns. A study published in 2011 in the European Journal of Nutrition, reported that eating tart montmorency (or morello) cherries significantly raised levels of melatonin and improved sleep. Compared to most other fruits, cherries are low in sugar, which makes them an ideal choice for people who want to lose weight.
Where to buy and what to pay
In Kent, Sussex and Herefordshire, our main cherry-growing counties, look out for pick-your-own farms and pop-up cherry stalls on roads through the orchard areas. In shops, expect to pay around £1 per 100g. Two-kilo boxes from greengrocers and markets are much better value, working out at around half that price.
Joanna Blythman is the author of What To Eat (Fourth Estate, £9.99). To order a copy for £7.99 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk
Cherry and rose cake
I have two very old-fashioned, deep-pink roses, which are highly scented. From these I make rose sugar every year - a wonderful addition to this cake. Pick a couple of roses in full bloom, put them upside down in a dark place overnight to give any bugs the chance to escape and for the roses to dry a little, remove the base and the stamen and break into individual petals. Mix these into 500g unrefined caster sugar and gently heat in an oven at 50C/125F/gas at lowest setting for a couple of hours until the roses are dry. Then put the sugar in a jar and keep in a cool cupboard for a couple of weeks before using.
300g rose-petal sugar
1 tbsp rosewater
4 eggs, separated
A pinch of salt
2 tsp baking powder
380g cherries, stones removed
1 Preheat the oven to 160C/325F/gas mark 3 and butter a 20cm x 30cm tin. Cream the butter until light, add 250g of the sugar and rosewater and beat until very fluffy - this will take about 10 minutes.
2 Whisk the egg whites to stiff peaks with the salt. Carefully fold in the remaining sugar, bit by bit. Set aside.
3 Slowly add the egg yolks to the creamed butter, beating well between each addition. Next add the milk and the flour and baking powder, alternating between the two.
4 Finally fold the egg whites and cherries into the batter, pour the mixture into the tin and bake in the centre of the oven for 45 minutes to an hour until an inserted knife comes out clean.
5 Cool slightly before turning out with the cherries at the top and sprinkling with a little more rosewater.
Rosie Sykes is head chef of Fitzbillies (fitzbillies.com) and co-author of The Kitchen Revolution (Ebury Press, £27.50). To order a copy for £22 with free UK p&p, go to guardianbookshop.co.uk
Cherries are good for you. Photograph: Jill Mead for the Guardian