We love being cherries. We can’t help being cheerful – you’d be cheerful too if you were one of us. After all, we’re one of the most popular fruits around and we join you during the festive and holiday season each summer. If there’s a celebration of any sort we’re normally invited – looking our best in plump dark red skins. We even have fun when you’re playing with us. Hands up anyone who hasn’t dangled a pair of us over their ears for mock earrings? You haven’t – where have you been?
Let me tell you more about us. We belong to the stone fruit family along with apricots, peaches, nectarines, plums and loquats. Our parent trees, which are very decorative with silvery-grey bark, grow to about 10 metres tall. In cultivation, they’re usually pruned to a predetermined shape and size. Their green leaves are oval, long and slender, with saw-like edges. In spring, cherry trees are massed with beautiful white and pink blossoms, which form in clusters consisting of several flowers. These turn into bunches of one to three fruits, which are harvested when ripe.
We’re 1-3cm in diameter, round to heart-shaped, with a hollow at the stalk end. Our stalks are 2-7cm long and are left attached after harvesting. Our skin is usually smooth, glossy, red to deep red or black in colour, and we have red to crimson, soft, moist, sweet flesh. In our centre lies a fat, oval seed but the best part is our sweet, juicy flesh.
We’re at our best value from November to January.
We come in many varieties, some of the most common of which are:
We’re a dark red to black, heart-shaped cherry, with dark red flesh and excellent flavour.
We’re heart-shaped and a good flavoured variety, with almost black skin and red flesh and juice.
We’re heart-shaped, deep red in colour with sweet dark red flesh of excellent quality.
We have dark red skin, sweet red flesh and juice and are heart-shaped.
We’re red to black, heart-shaped with good flavoured dark red flesh.
We’re heart-shaped with creamy-white skin with a red blush and sweet white flesh of excellent flavour.
We’re known as a drupe, which is a one-seeded fleshy fruit that has a spherical appearance. We prefer to be located on well drained soil that is not too wet and not too dry, in a temperate climate but we do require a winter chill for the best crops.
Our parent tree is sterile and must be cross pollinated by a tree of another compatible variety. The buds from a sweet tasting cherry are cut from a healthy tree that has produced the kind of fruit desired. These buds are then grafted to the root of a cherry tree (rootstocks) that is selected for its good growing habit – resistance to temperatures, pest and diseases. These trees will then bear cherries that are of the same variety as those from which the buds were cut. Some trees are trellised but this is not a very successful method of growing cherries for the markets
Cherry trees have beautiful small white or pink flowers that bloom around September. White flowers generally occur on commercial cherry trees while pink flowers bear no fruit and are used as ornamental trees in gardens. Six to eight weeks later, depending on the location, the cherry harvest can begin in October and then extends into late March.
Cherry trees will begin producing marketable crops after 6 to 8 years and continue producing edible fruit for up to 100 years.
We don’t ripen after we have been picked so care must be taken to ensure we’re picked close to maturity. We’re picked by hand, with our stems attached to prolong our shelf life.
Select those of us with plump, glossy skins and green stems. Our colour depends on our variety. Avoid soft, dull or bruised fruit. Small hard cherries lack flavour and juice.
Store us in a plastic bag in the refrigerator. We’re highly perishable so use as soon as possible.
We’ve been in cultivation for many centuries and the origin of our various varieties is often impossible to trace. ‘Sweet’ cherries are thought to have come from a wild cherry which grows in an area from the United Kingdom to western Asia. Since ancient times the trees with the sweetest fruit have been selected for cultivation and from these, the modern varieties have arisen.
The Romans are thought to have taken their preferred varieties to Britain when occupying the country in the 1st century AD. We’re now grown in large quantities in Italy, as well as in the USA, France, Rumania and Germany. In Japan, the cherry-flowering season has been celebrated for centuries, being an important time for religious and secular festivals at which people celebrate the coming of spring.
In Australia the first commercial cherry orchard was planted at Young in New South Wales in 1878. Young has continued to grow cherries since then and today, Young and Orange are the major cherry growing areas of Australia. However, South Australia and Tasmania also produce a lot of the cherries found in the shops today.
We’re great for snacks, school lunches, fruit and cheese platters and salads. We can also be stewed, poached, sauteed or microwaved, 2-4 minutes, depending on quantity.
We’re delicious with ice cream, in fruit salads, soups, sauces, cakes, pies, jellies, jams, crepes and puddings. We can also be glaceed and brandied. Stems and stones can be removed with a cherry pitter before cooking.
Here are some tasty cherry recipes for you to try:
Cut 1 cup cherries in half and remove stones. Make up a buttercake packet mix and stir cherries through. Cook according to directions. When a skewer put into middle of cake comes out clean it is cooked. Decorate top of cake with whipped cream and cherries.
Remove stones from 450g cherries. Mix 125g cream cheese with 1 tablespoon cream, 1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon. Pipe into cherries and serve on cheese platter or as an after dinner treat.
Chicken And Cherry Sauce
Cut 500g chicken into strips and lightly brown over high heat. Remove and keep warm. Saute 250g pitted cherries in hot melted butter for 2 minutes. Add a little water and 1/2 teaspoon allspice, cover and cook 2 minutes. Return chicken to pan and stir over high heat and mix well.