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The Health Benefits of Cherries & a Summer Tart 

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Cherries. Photo: Eurokinissi, File

In summer, there is an abundance of fruits and vegetables to enjoy. Variety as they say is the spice of life, and when it comes to eating right, variety can help add vital nutrients to your diet.

Among the tasty summer fruits now available, cherries contain antioxidants, anti-inflammatory agents, and a moderate amount of fiber and Vitamin C. Sour cherries have a slightly higher Vitamin C and Vitamin A content than sweet cherries. Like all red fruits and vegetables, sour cherries contain anthocyanins, a class of antioxidant phytochemical that fights diseases including cancer and heart disease.

People have been eating wild cherries since prehistoric times at least, according to the findings of archeologists excavating sites in many regions of the world, but there was no evidence that the trees were cultivated in those regions.

The Ancient Greeks did cultivate cherry trees and the word cherry is derived from the Greek word for the tree Kerasos which also lent its name to a city of the Pontus region called Kerasos or Kerasounta, the present-day Giresun in what is now Turkey. Domestication is thought by scholars to have occurred 2,000-3,000 years ago in Asia Minor. History records that Lucius Licinius Lucullus brought a cultivated cherry tree to Rome from Pontus in 72 BC, according to Plutarch.

Besides eating the cherries fresh, they are often made into preserves or pies, with sour cherries often being preferred for their bright, tart flavor. Candied cherries are often used in fruitcake. Tart cherry juice is also popular for its anti-inflammatory properties and health benefits including helping prevent muscle damage and aiding in sports recovery.

The juice may also help reduce inflammation for those suffering from arthritis. For those suffering from insomnia, sour cherries are a natural source of melatonin which regulates sleep cycles. Due to the high sugar content of cherries, if adding the juice to your diet, be mindful of the extra calories or stick with eating the fresh fruit for the added health benefits of dietary fiber.

The following recipe for a summer cherry tart uses Greek yogurt in the crust and less sugar to highlight the fresh cherry flavor.

Summer Cherry Tart

For the crust:

1 3/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour

1/4 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 cup cold unsalted butter (1 stick)

1/3 cup Greek yogurt

2 tablespoons cold water

1 large egg

For the filling:

2 tablespoons all-purpose unbleached flour

1/2 teaspoon finely grated lemon peel

Pinch of cinnamon

2 tablespoons sugar

1 1/2 pounds cherries, stems removed, pitted, and cut in half

2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces

To make the crust, in a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Cut in the cold butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. In a small bowl, beat the yogurt, cold water, and egg. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough begins to hold together. Form the dough into a ball and shape into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 30 minutes or until firm enough to roll out. On a floured surface, roll out the dough into a circle to about 1/8 inch thickness. Transfer to a large, rimmed baking sheet.

For the filling, in a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, grated lemon peel, cinnamon, and sugar. Add the fruit and toss to coat completely. Place the fruit in the center of the rolled out dough, leaving about 2 inches all around, fold the dough edge up onto the fruit, pleating and pressing together to hold the fruit in place to create a free-form tart. The fruit will peak out in the center. Sprinkle the top with a teaspoon of sugar and dot with butter. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven for 35-45 minutes or until the edges are golden brown and the filling is bubbling in the center. Transfer to a wire rack to cool and serve with a scoop of your favorite ice cream.