There are over 1,000 varieties of cherries being grown in the United States. There are two main types grown commercially, “sweet” and “tart”. Sweet cherries, as the name suggests, are sweeter than tart cherries and are also larger. They are typically eaten fresh. Lapins, Sweetheart, Rainier, Royal Anne, Stella, Lambert, and Skeena are a few of the sweet cherry varieties grown in Montana. Tart cherries, also called “sour” or “pie” cherries, are smaller, more tart tasting, and are typically used in baked goods. Tart cherry varieties grown in Montana include Evan’s Bali, Montmorency, and Sweet Cherry Pie. Dwarf sour cherries are a new, bush-type cherry that produces tart cherries but is easier to pick and more cold-hardy.
Most of the sweet cherries grown in Montana are grown on the east side of Flathead Lake in western Montana, where the climate is protected from extreme winter temperatures and spring frosts. “Flathead Cherries” are not a variety of cherry, but the name refers to all sweet cherries grown in that region. The Flathead cherry industry was established in 1895.
On average, Montana growers produce two million pounds of sweet cherries each year. More than 640 acres of sweet cherries and 90 acres of tart cherries were growing in Montana in 2017.
Chokecherries are a shrub-like member of the cherry family that are native to Montana and most of the United States and Canada. Native Americans have traditionally eaten the fruit and used other parts of the plant for medicinal uses. Crushed chokecherries are one of the ingredients in pemmican, a traditional food that also includes dried game meat, bone marrow, or lard. This high energy food can be stored to be eaten later, such as during the winter. Chokecherries are also used to make jelly, syrups, and sauces.