The Montmorency cherry, or Prunus cerasus, is the most popular sour cherry in the United States, which is the top producer of the fruit. It is also the most common variety, available fresh or in cans, of the sour cherries on the market. There are three main types of cherries — sweet, sour, and a combination of the two — and quite a few health benefits have been attributed to the fruit, because of its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Sour varieties are often better suited to baking. Bakers and cooks often use the Montmorency cherry in breads, muffins, and pies.
There are physical differences between sweet and sour cherry trees. The sweet varieties tend to be upright and larger, and can reach up to about 36 feet (11 meters) tall. Most sour cherry trees, on the other hand, tend to be compact and only reach about half the height of the sweet trees. The Montmorency cherry tree, however, can get up to about 30 feet (about 9 meters), and has a round crown of branches. It must grow in areas where it can get full sunshine, which helps explain its taller stature.
The bark on the tree is a reddish-brownish gray, and its dark green foliage features pointed leaves. The trees tend to bloom in the early spring. The fragrant flowers of the Montmorency cherry tree are white with five petals, and grow in clusters of three or five. The fruit is dark red on the outside, with interior flesh that can range from yellow to clear. Each cherry is about one inch (2.54 cm) in size. They are generally ripe and ready to be harvested in mid to late July.
Once the cherries have been harvested, they should be refrigerated and consumed within three days. If a large amount of fruit is harvested, the excess can be canned, dried, used for jam, or frozen for future use. Before freezing or canning the fruit, the pits should be removed and some sugar should be mixed in. The fruit can also be frozen with a simple syrup, a mixture of water and sugar that has been boiled and reduced to a syrup.
When canned or stored in an airtight container and frozen, they can be last up to a year. Dried cherries have a shelf life of about 18 months. Bakers tend to prefer the frozen or canned ones for pies, muffins, and sauces, while dried cherries can make a lovely addition to granola, cereals, and bread recipes.
There are also health benefits associated with the Montmorency cherry. The fruit contains large amounts of antioxidants, or molecules that can inhibit the oxidation of other molecules. The Montmorency cherry is also thought to contain chemicals that act as an anti-inflammatory. People have attributed tart cherries with being able to help alleviate painful symptoms of conditions like arthritis, gout, and diabetes.