Gorgeous English home grown cherries are on sale in shops and farmers’ outlets in Kent, yet my local Kent supermarket is selling Spanish cherries. I may just have been unlucky, but with the enormous effort and investment in English cherry orchards these days, I could not help wonder why a large major supermarket did not seem to have home grown cherries prominently on sale. The cherry season in the UK begins with imported fruit, but now that the English crop is ready and picking has been going on for the past two weeks or so, surely English cherries should be widely available, albeit at a price?
That morning, I visited a farm less than twenty miles away where the cherry harvest was in full swing on the most up-to-the-mark plantations, producing almost unimaginable crops – at best, from six to eight tons a hectare of top quality fruit. Last year the English cherry industry grew 2,000 tons of cherries. The crop will probably be higher this year and more new cherry orchards have gone in. These modern fruit farms are massive enterprises, immensely impressive and where cherry production, like that of strawberries and raspberries, has undergone a revolution over the past few decades.
Gone are the tall cherry trees that needed sixty run ladders to reach the top and pick them. Instead, dwarfed trees, about ten feet high, are grown under covered tunnels, protected from bad weather and birds to ensure bountiful harvests of pristine fruit. This revival in the English cherry orchard’s fortunes is also due to new cherry varieties, which tend to be larger and more succulent than many of the old sorts. Although cherry aficionados will tell you that there are real treats to be found among the old varieties, by and large the new ones are much more generous in size and many also taste excellent.
Kordia, a large, true black cherry with a rich, glorious flavour, is widely planted in commercial orchards and one that should be on sale and recognised, now that supermarkets are naming the cherries in a punnet. Penny is a beautiful, very large dark red cherry also being harvested around this time and, almost uniquely in the portfolia of recommended modern cherries, bred in England. Summer Sun is another wonderful, large, dark red cherry. You will also find on sale Regina, a nearly black cherry, which, like all these varieties, is handsome and fleshy. Sweetheart is the last of all to ripen and another good, deep red cherry.
Over the season Stella and Lapins may appear in markets. These are varieties popular also with gardeners because they are self fertile, but most cherries require another variety to pollinate them to produce a good crop of fruit. The complexities of cherry pollination are a taxing issue for growers, only satisfied by planting a range of varieties. Yet this is of great benefit to consumers, because it means we have a wide spectrum of cherries potentially available to us.
Cherries are one of the most glorious fruits and with the English cherry industry putting increasing amounts onto the market in response to the demand for more home grown fruit in general, we need to make sure they are reaching us. It seems an open question as to how widely available home-grown cherries may be, but it would be interesting to find out.
Tell us what you discover on sale. Let us know if these wonderful cherries are getting out to customers all over the UK. Do you see Kent cherries and any other English cherries on sale, for example, in Leeds or Liverpool, Exeter or Scotland? In your area there may still be orchards of old varieties – it would be fascinating to know about them too.