Cherries In Season: When And Where To Find The Best

  • Rachel ManleyBachelor's degree, Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse, Bangor University
  • Muna hassan Bachelor of science in molecular biology and Genetics Üsküdar Üniversitesi

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It is one of the most diverse and unique fruits found in more places than you think. Cherries are the shining, sweet stone fruit that we all take for granted. Its diversity and availability stretch further than you realise, and when you know what you’re looking for, the possibilities are endless.

Cherry varieties

Most people aren’t aware that there are over 1000 varieties of cherries! Some are wild and there are a proportion that are commercially cultivated. Cherries are round, stone fruits that grow on cherry trees. The fruit can be sweet for consumption fresh or sour or tart in taste for cooking. Cherries are grown across the world from the USA to Asia. They require temperatures around 16-24°C, moderate humidity, and good soil drainage to thrive.

Cherries are great for your health, as they contain high levels of polyphenols, a type of antioxidant. A diet rich in antioxidants can help to reduce inflammation, prevent cell damage, and overall reduce the risk of developing chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.1

Sweet cherries

Some of the characteristics of sweet cherries are firm skin and juicy flesh bursting with that sweet cherry flavour. Some of the common sweet varieties include dark red Bing cherries, Lapins, black dark and black Chelan cherries.  

Sweet bing

The sweet Bing cherries are some of the most popular. They are heart-shaped with shiny, deep red, firm skin. They are juicy and sweet, and the flavour develops even sweeter as they ripen.

The Bing trees attract pollinators such as butterflies and bees and, therefore, contribute to the wider ecosystem surrounding its environment.

Lapins

Lapins are one of the larger varieties with red skin that deepens in colour as they ripen. They can grow to around an inch in size (2.5cm). The large size doesn’t stop at the cherries, the Lapin tree they grow on can measure up to 25ft tall! These are also a harder variety and are better able to tolerate colder climates.

Chelan

The Chelan cherry is similar to the Bing cherry; however, it can be harvested two weeks earlier and doesn’t have as sweet of a taste. This variety was created in Washington in the 1990s and is a hybrid of the Stella and Beaulieu cherries.2

Sour and tart cherries

The most common sour varieties include Amarelle and Morello. used in cooking and for making preserves and jams.

Amarelle

Amarelle tends to be on the smaller side with bright red skin and the inner flesh is more of a yellow/translucent colour. Almost all of its pigmentation is contained within the skin. It has a sour taste and is mostly used for cooking delicious cherry-baked goods.

Morello

Morellos have deep red skin, and unlike the Amarelle’s the colour runs through to the flesh and juices. These too are used in cooking and most commonly in the creation of cherry-flavored products including cherry-flavored alcoholic beverages, cherry juice and cherry preserves.

Cherry seasonality

The best months to harvest cherries vary across different parts of the world but are generally from late spring through to summer months. For the USA the season can begin as early as April in parts such as California and continue until the end of July. In Europe and Japan, the best time tends to be in June/July, with a slightly wider window in the UK between May and August.

Factors influencing ripening

As previously mentioned, Cherries of all varieties require a certain temperature and level of humidity to yield a successful crop. Due to this, the environment they are grown in can have a huge impact on the success of the plant. Weather conditions such as rainfall, air temperature and soil quality can help or hinder the plant's growth. Cherry trees require fertile, well-drained soil to thrive and can become rotten if they become flooded.3

Increased rainfall can cause damage to the fruit whilst developing. Some varieties especially such as the Bing cherries can split easily. This can often occur just as the cherries are ripening, and so can hinder the finished fruit. 

Another element that can hinder ripening is when the cherry tree blossoms are not pollinated. If the tree flowers do not get pollinated, the flesh of the fruits will not thicken and thus become discoloured and unripe.

Best places to find cherries

Next, we will explore where to find the best cherries, with some tips on where to start your search, wherever in the world you are reading this from.

Local farmers markets

This is the best place to start your search for cherries because you will get the freshest produce available here. It is just a click away on the search engine to find your local farmers market, and I can guarantee there will be more around than you realise.

Buying local produce has several benefits, not only in the quality of cherries you will find there but also the larger scale benefits to the local economy and communities.

Fresher cherries

To start with, the cherries you find at your local farmers market will likely be fresher than what you will get in the supermarket. Produce sold at these markets is often picked in the week before or the week of sale and hasn’t had to travel a long distance via numerous modes of transport to get there. This means less chance of battered and bruised fruit damaged in shipment and more high-quality, fresh options to choose from.

Benefits for the planet

With significantly less plastic packaging involved at the farmers market, shopping here for your cherries can also have a positive impact on reducing damage to the planet. It is estimated that plastic production has increased to 400 million metric tons per year in 20215

The average lifespan of plastic packaging can be up to 10 years and some products can take an estimated 500 years to decompose! So, reducing how much we are using unnecessarily can have a huge impact on your carbon footprint.

Meeting the growers

Another benefit of shopping locally is that you can meet the farmers who are growing your cherries. This means you can find out exactly what goes into growing those cherries, including if any chemicals are used, such as fertilisers or pesticides. So, you can better understand exactly what you are consuming and re-connect with your food sources to understand and appreciate what goes into putting food on our tables.

Cherry orchards and U-pick farms  

Another great place to source your cherries is at local cherry orchards and U-pick farms. During cherry season look out for signs directing you to your nearest cherry orchard where the public are invited to pick cherries straight from the source. This can be a great day out for the family or a first-date location for something different and fun.

Tips for selecting fresh cherries

So now you know all about the many varieties of cherries out there and where and when is best to find them, but how do you select the best ones? Read on to make every selection count.

Visual ques for ripeness

The most obvious visual cue for ripeness is of course in the colour and skin of the fruit. Try to choose cherries that are a darker crimson colour, with shiny skins and the greenest stems. These characteristics are a good indication of a fresh bunch. Of course, color can vary as previously discussed with the different types of cherries so bear that in mind!

Checking for firmness or plumpness

The next thing to look at is the size of the cherry and the plumpness of the skin. Cherries with softer skins can often be due to over-ripeness or because of incorrect storage4. The bigger and plumper the cherry, the juicier they will be! Any cherries that appear soft or turn to mush when you pick them up are a good indication that they’re past their best.

Stems

Stems should be green and firm. Sour cherries, when ripe, should fall off their stems easily, which is a useful bonus for cooking those cherry recipes! It is important to note that if you’re not cooking your cherries straight away and plan to store them, try to pick with the stems attached, as this will help to prevent the skins of the cherries from opening, which could speed up the spoiling process.

Storing guidelines

Cherries are of course most tasty when consumed fresh and as close to when harvested as possible. However, it is possible to lock that freshness in by storing it in a refrigerator or freezer, giving the flexibility to add to future recipes!

Refrigeration guidance

To get the longest shelf life for your freshly picked cherries, try to keep them refrigerated at all times when they are not being enjoyed. Standard refrigeration temperatures are between 2 – 8 °C, and keeping within this range can keep your cherries fresh for up to 10 days. Try to be sure to pick out any bruised or soft cherries that may have been damaged during transport from your harvest site to your home. Damaged cherries, when mixed, could go off and attract some unsavoury bacteria and spoil your entire collection. So, ensure to give them plenty of space when being stored.

Do not wash cherries before storage; only when ready to eat. It is important to keep them dry for the storage process. You can store them in a sealed container, and if you are able to, it is recommended to use paper towels to separate them.

Freezing guidance

Freezing cherries can give you up to twelve months of freshness! There is, however, some preparation involved. When freezing, it is recommended to wash and dry it with a paper towel. Then, de-stone and remove the stems (not a necessity but can be useful). You can add ¾ sugar per quart of cherries and stir until dissolved before adding to a sealed container and placing in the freezer at temperatures below 0°C.

Recipes and serving suggestions

With all the thought gone into the selection of your cherries and the care taken to store them, let's delve into how best to enjoy that sweet cherry taste. Adding cherries to desserts such as fruit salads or as a topping on vanilla ice cream can be a simple start to savouring the flavour.

Simple recipes to highlight fresh cherries

Let’s start with a cherry salad, perfect for summer lunches or as a side to freshen up any meal!

This salad recipe gives a great contrast of taste, texture, and sweetness.

Ingredients

  • 9 cups of spinach
  • 5 cups of spring mix salad leaves
  • ½ cup of fresh cherries (can also use dried, but fresh is always best)
  • 1 apple – sliced
  • ½ cup chopped pecans
  • ¼ crumbled gorgonzola cheese

For the cherry vinaigrette

  • 3 tablespoons of cherry preserve
  • ¼ cup of raspberries
  • ¼ red wine vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons cider vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of sugar
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil

Method

  • Combine all ingredients to create your salad in a serving bowl
  • Add the raspberries, sugar, cherry preserve and vinegar in a blender and gradually add the olive oil in increments
  • Drizzle through the salad and toss through before serving

Cherry infused beverages

Due to their sweet flavour and versatility, cherries are a great choice to infuse with other ingredients to create delicious beverages. They can be used to create a range of thirst-quenching drinks from teas to cocktails. So why not try the recipe below for a refreshing cherry soda to wash down your cherry salad with?

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of cherries (fresh or frozen)
  • 8 ounces of carbonated water
  • ¼ cup of maple syrup

Method

  • Blend cherries in a blender until smooth
  • Combine with maple syrup and carbonated water
  • Serve accordingly

Dessert options

If you haven’t tried it before, you must try a cherry pie! It is the perfect recipe to make with all those cherries harvested in cherry season for a winter warming treat. The combination of pastry and those sweet cherries beautifully complement each other and if you are feeling cherry-mad, some cherry ice cream (more to come about that later) is the perfect accompaniment.

Here’s a mouth-watering recipe to get you started:

Ingredients

  • Homemade or store-bought pie crust- you’ll need one for the bottom and one for the top
  • 4 ½ cups of fresh cherries – pitted and sliced into quarters
  • 135g of granulated sugar
  • 28g of cornstarch
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • ¼ teaspoon almond extract
  • 14g of cold unsalted butter cut into small cubes
  • Egg wash: 1 large egg with 1 tablespoon of milk
  • Coarse sugar for sprinkling on top (optional)

Method

  • Add the cherries, cornstarch, sugar, lemon juice and both extracts into a large bowl and stir until thoroughly combined. Cover the filling and place in the fridge.
  • Roll out the pie dough to create a circle of around 12 inches in diameter, then place the dough in a 9-inch pie dish. Ensure to smooth the dough in the dish with your fingers.
  • Spoon and spread the cherries across the base, reserving the juice. Refrigerate the pie uncovered.
  • Pour a few tablespoons of the remaining juice into a saucepan and heat for 3-5 minutes on low heat. The sauce should begin to thicken. Allow to cool before adding to the cherries and try to combine. It may harden and thicken when it is combined with the cold cherries from the fridge, but don’t be alarmed; this is normal! It will combine well when being cooked.
  • Add the cubes of butter on top of the filling
  • Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F)
  • Next, roll out your second ball of dough into a circle with a diameter of 12 inches once again.
  • Using a sharp knife, cut strips in the dough – four strips 2 inches wide and 2 strips 1 inch wide.
  • Carefully weave these strips over and under each other, creating a lattice lid. 
  • Brush the top of the pie with the egg wash and coarse sugar (if using)
  • Place in the oven on a baking sheet and bake at this temperature for 20 minutes.
  • Then reduce the temperature to 190°C (375°F) and bake for a further 30-40 minutes until you have a golden brown lid and can see the filling bubbling.
  • Serve accordingly

Cherry ice cream/sorbet

The perfect accompaniment to your cherry pie is some refreshing cherry ice cream. This easy ice cream recipe will impress all your friends and summer guests this cherry season!

Ingredients

  • 3 cups of frozen cherries
  • 1 cup of heavy cream
  • 1 cup of milk
  • 1/3 cup of sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Method

  • Combine all ingredients in a blender until smooth.
  • Serve immediately for soft-serve ice cream
  • Pour into an ice cream maker and freeze according to instructions

Cherry festivals

Cherry season is a very popular time across the world, the USA has a National Cherry Festival held in Michigan over a week each year to promote and celebrate everything about cherries! Part of their mission statement is to encourage learning and promote environmentally sound practices, reconnecting people with their sources of cherries. In Bulgaria, there is a festival called Cherry Holiday, where artwork created with cherries is displayed and they aim to connect people with the traditions of the Balkans and way of life with cherries.

Summary

So there you have it, you are now officially a connoisseur of these wonderful, juicy, sweet fruits we call cherries. You will be the envy of all you know with your expert knowledge, selection choices and cooking masterpieces with cherries!

References

  1. Ferretti G, Bacchetti T, Belleggia A, Neri D. Cherry antioxidants: from farm to table. Molecules [Internet]. 2010 Oct 12 [cited 2024 Feb 1];15(10):6993–7005. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6259571/
  2. Dean J. Chelan cherry [Internet]. 2021 [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from: https://antioxidant-fruits.com/chelan-cherry.html
  3. Cherries [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from: https://www.rhs.org.uk/fruit/cherries/grow-your-own
  4. Have A Plant. How do I select and store cherries? [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from: https://fruitsandveggies.org/expert-advice/how-do-i-select-and-store-cherries/
  5. Statista. Topic: Global plastic waste [Internet]. [cited 2024 Feb 1]. Available from: https://www.statista.com/topics/5401/global-plastic-waste/

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Rachel Manley

Bachelor's degree, Registered Nursing/Registered Nurse, Bangor University

Rachel is a Clinical Research Specialist Nurse with experience managing and leading portfolios within clinical trials. She has several years experience nursing overseas and within the UK. Her experience includes intensive care, cardiac care, fertility treatments and surgical specialities.

Her current working portfolio is within Cardiac Research in Wales.

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