The Rainier cherry is a sweet cherry fruit known for its taste and multicolored skin. It is a hybrid with two dark red cherries, the Bing and Van varieties, for “parents.” As you pick through the piles of cherries in a market or look through pre-bagged piles, trying to find the best Rainier cherries to buy, look for good color, firmness and a lack of bug or other damage.
Like other cherries, a Rainier cherry should be plump and firm, without any soft spots or wrinkles. These are signs the cherry is overripe and rotting. The cherry should not feel completely squishy, either, even if the skin is intact and the cherry looks plump. Avoid cherries with cracks and punctures in the skin. Look out for signs of bug infestation, too, as Rainier cherries are susceptible to damage from the cherry fruit fly maggot.
Whether or not the stem is attached isn’t an indication of how good the cherry is, but the condition of the skin near the spot where the stem attaches to the cherry is. You shouldn’t see any torn skin or leaking juice at that spot. The skin of a Rainier cherry is a combination of red and yellow, and the colors should look robust and not dull. There should be at least some red on the cherry, and all-yellow Rainier cherries may not be fully ripe. The skin should be shiny and have no mold.
Occasionally you might see a brownish spot on the cherry’s skin. As long as the spot is not torn open or odd-looking in any other way, the cherry should be fine. Rainier cherries that have higher sugar content sometimes have these spots.
Cherries on the lower branches of trees don’t always get enough sunlight, which is necessary for the Rainier cherry to develop proper color and taste. Sometimes farmers add reflective sheets to the ground below the branches in an effort to send some light to those lower cherries. This doesn’t always increase the sweetness of the fruit.
To avoid putting sour, unripe cherries in your recipes, taste one after you’ve washed it. Cut the cherry in half, so you don’t unwittingly bite into a sour one. The flesh inside the cherry should be white to a little off-white and attached to the pit. If the cherry looks all right inside, eat one of the halves to see if it is as sweet as you’d like.