Tuesday, July 13, 2010

The Elusive Tart Cherry of Northern Michigan

Picture taken with my Blackberry Storm (I'm not talented like Matt Armendariz)

When he was by, the birds such pleasure took
That some would sing, some other in their bills
Would bring him mulberries and ripe-red cherries

--Shakespeare, "Venus and Adonis," ll. 1101-3

The Cherry Marketing Institute invited me to attend an educational cherry immersion event in Traverse City, Michigan. The Cherry Marketing Institute (CMI) is a nonprofit national promotion organization that is funded by U.S. tart cherry growers. I was joined by some pretty amazing bloggers, photographers, professional chefs and dietitians. I loved that we were there during the National Cherry Festival.

We all learned a great deal about cherries from our guide Phil Korson, President of the Cherry Marketing Institute. The wonderful team from Weber Shandwick enriched our time in Traverse City by being generous hosts who took us to the most beautiful places in Northern Michigan. I am very grateful to them all.

The Boathouse Restaurant

Our table at the Boathouse Restaurant overlooking Bower's Harbor

Our welcome dinner was at the Boathouse Restaurant. Owner Doug Kosch makes sure his restaurant uses the "farm to table" concept. He grows most of the restaurant's vegetables, fruits and herbs with his wife on their farm .

We were treated like royalty by Chef Eric Nittolo. Every dish he created had a cherry theme. It was exquisite and something I will never forget! It was after 8 pm and the sun was still shining above Bower's Harbor.

My cherry martini

We began with cherry cocktails and I had the perfect cherry martini. We then started our four course dinner! The servers brought out plates with duck, cheese and a fresh salad with goat cheese, walnuts, apples, spinach, beets and cherry vinaigrette dressing. Then, we had a main course choice of ahi tuna or filet mignon. I selected the filet mignon even though I rarely eat red meat! It was so tender and had a tart, but slightly sweet cherry sauce.

Filet Mignon

Chef Eric made cherries jubilee for dessert. It was like a work of art, plus it tasted so good! (Remember - Everything in moderation! Yes, you can eat it.)

Cherries Jubilee

Cherries Have a Wide Array of Health Benefits

Dr Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD talks about the health benefits of cherries

Dr. Wendy Bazilian, DrPH, MA, RD, helped us understand the science behind the succulent red fruit. Her presentation taught us that cherries are a homegrown super fruit with a wide array of health benefits.

I will post about the health benefits of cherries soon, but here are a few quick facts:

- Tart cherries contain at least 17 antioxidants.

- Anthocyanins 1 and 2 are important antioxidants found in cherries. They can block enzymes (COX-1 and COX-2) that are involved with the pain and inflammation of arthritis and gout.

- Anthocyanins are the plant pigments that give cherries their rich red color.

- Anthocyanins also have anti-inflammatory properties and may inhibit the growth of colon cancer tumors.

- There are 30 to 40 mg of anthocyanins 1 and 2 in 100 grams of fruit. Anthocyanins 1 and 2 are not found in blueberries or cranberries.

- Tart cherries also are rich in the antioxidants kaempferol and quercetin.

- Research shows that tart cherries contain high levels of melatonin, a powerful antioxidant that can eliminate free radicals. (free radicals are toxins involved in diseases such as cancer, heart disease, etc.) Melatonin also helps regulate natural sleep patterns!

- Montmorency cherries contain almost 6 times more melatonin than Balaton cherries.

- Tart cherries contain 19 times the beta carotene of blueberries and strawberries.

- Cherries are also rich in fiber, vitamin C, iron, folate. potassium and magnesium.

*I'll also talk about ways to add tart cherries and tart cherry juice to your diet in a future post.