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Cherry season is short. But it offers a splash of tree-laden fruit flavor and color to summer.

Growing up at the farm, we always had cherry trees. We enjoyed the cherries primarily for eating fresh out of hand.

My dad remembers Grandma Potempa also canning cherries to store in the farm cellar for the family to enjoy during the long winter months.

Reader Becky Stankowski of Lowell spent her weekend picking cherries at Lehman's Orchards in Niles, Mich. and sent me one of her favorite cherry recipes to share with readers.

"This orchard in Niles, Mich. is special because of its vintage cherry pitter," she said.

"This is a great place. You go and pick the cherries, bring them back to their shed where they have tables with galvanized buckets that you fill with water to wash your cherries. Then you take them to the pitting machine, since pitting is included in the cost. They pour them into the hopper and the drum, which is covered with little divots, each one holding a cherry rotates and needles punch the pits into the middle. My husband Jim timed it this year. It took 75 seconds to pit 55 pounds of cherries."

I agree with Becky, who also says for anyone who has ever pitted cherries, it's clear what a "genius invention" this machine is as a timesaver.

"The pitted cherries fall into a waiting bucket and you can bag them up right there to take home," she said.

"We take a cooler with ice. So, from about an hour from them being on the tree they are bagged and ready to go, as fresh as possible."

Cherries are a member of the same fruit tree family as plums, apricots, peaches and nectarines, but fail when compared with their vitamin and mineral value in contrast to these larger fruit cousins. But since they are low in calories, they are prized as a favorite snack by many. There are more than 1,000 types of cherries worldwide and the "sour" varieties are more nutritional than the "sweet" counterparts. A cup of pitted cherries measures up to about 140 calories with 500 milligrams of potassium. Because cherries are a good source of pectin, a soluble fiber, they can help lower blood cholesterol. And for centuries, cherries have been recommended as a folk remedy for those who suffer from gout, a form of painful arthritis, especially in the smaller bones of the feet.

Cherry-Almond Crisp

Fruit filling:

5 cups sour cherries, pitted

1 cup sugar

5 tablespoons cornstarch

1/2 teaspoon almond extract

1 tablespoon kirsch (a clear cherry brandy -- optional)

1 tablespoon unsalted butter

Topping:

1 1/4 cups all purpose flour

3/4 cup brown sugar

1/4 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature

1 1/2 cups sliced almonds

DIRECTIONS: Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Generously butter a 13-inch by 9-inch by 2-inch glass baking dish. To make cherry filling, combine cherries, sugar and cornstarch in saucepan; cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture thickens. Add extract, kirsch (if using) and butter. Stir to combine. Transfer to the prepared dish. To make the topping, whisk the flour, sugar and salt together in a medium bowl. Add butter; rub in with fingertips until mixture begins to clump together. Mix in almonds. (This can be made a day ahead.) Cover and chill for at least an hour. Sprinkle topping over fruit. Bake until fruit is heated through and topping is golden brown and firm to touch, about 25 minutes. Serve crisp warm with vanilla ice cream. Makes 8 servings.

The opinions expressed are solely those of the writer. He can be reached at philip.potempa@nwi.com or (219) 852-4327.

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