There is nothing that compares to freshly picked cherries. It doesn’t always matter what “kind” of cherries they are. The first picking of the season is always the best.
About a week ago I hopped on my motorcycle and rode out to Oliver. Because the cherries ripen first down in the “desert”. I found a convenient place to pick my own cherries, right off the highway as you drive into town. You can’t miss it! And boy, were they ever good. But, if you don’t want to pick your own, there are many, many fruit stands who would love to fill you up.
As the season wears on, cherries will be available at fruit stands and in the fields all the way to Salmon Arm. While they tend to ripen in the Oliver area faster, they are worth the wait in other regions. They are typically only a few weeks behind.
There is more than one type of Cherry!
There are regular – or sweet cherries – and then there are sour cherries. Sour cherries are smaller, and are generally used in things like pies. Many people rave about sour cherry pies. They will be ready a little bit later – in a week or so.
In terms of “regular” cherries, there are many different varieties. To name the most common: Rainiers, Van cherry, Lapin, Santina, Skeena, Lambert and Bing cherries.
Many people are not even aware there are so many varieties, and that there is, actually, a difference. But when you live in the Okanagan, surrounded by fresh fruit trees, you do learn that there are a number of choices, and you do develop a preference.
When you own an orchard, you want to plant a number of different varieties,
- because they ripen at different times so you can extend your harvesting/consumption period,
- in case the weather is not kind to one of your varieties you will have others to fall back on.
- you use cherries for different things – eating fresh, baking, making jams and jellies… cherries have different sweetnesses that will affect the flavour of what you create.
- Some varieties look and taste fantastic, but don’t last as long if you want to ship them somewhere or even if you want to sell them at a store.
In whatever you do, whatever you grow, there is always a trade-off. Or, put another way, by having variety, we get the best of all worlds.
Types of “Sweet” Cherries
Rainier Cherries are easy to spot because they do not go dark red. When they are ripe, they are still a blush/orange/yellow colour. They are usually an earlier cherry.
Van Cherries are also earlier cherries. They are very popular, and when ripe are very dark red. They are a little bit smaller and firmer than the commonly known bing cherries. Because they are usually the first harvest, they never stick around long. But if you really did pick a lot of them, you can use them for cooking and canning.
The Bing Cherries are the most well-known cherries, and are what are found in most grocery stores. They are slightly larger and plumper than the Van Cherries. If you don’t end up eating them all in one sitting, they do need to be stored in the fridge, as they do not last all that long once picked.
Santina Cherries are also early cherries. They are slightly smaller, firmer, and a little more oval shaped than the Bings. They are very sweet, and once again will not last long in your possession. They can be used for cobblers and pies as well.
Skeena Cherries are later ripening. They are firm, large and black when ripe. And very popular among cherry eaters. Well worthy the wait.
Lapin Cherry is also a later cherry. It is one of the most popular commercially grown cherry in the world, as it stores better than most therefore can be shipped anywhere with less spoilage. This is the most common cherry for jams and jellies.
Lambert Cherry. This is also a later cherry, and is notable by its large dark features. It is one of the most popular cherries grown in the Okanagan. The cherry is not as sweet as its cousins, but is still great for eating and for cooking. Think cherry chocolate cake!
Some Tips For Dealing With Fresh Cherries Once You’ve Brought them Home
- Store cherries in the refrigerator. They will last longer – perhaps up to a week.
- Avoid storing cherries near strong-smelling foods.
- Avoid washing cherries until you are ready to use them.
- Remove mushy or rotten cherries from the bag or box in order to preserve the rest.
You can freeze most types of cherries. One thing you will want to do if you go this route is to invest in a cherry pitter. You can find one in stores like walmart and sometimes even the dollar store for less than $15 depending on the quality you buy. You can get a single cherry pitter, but if you really want to freeze a lot of cherries you will want to invest in a 5-cherry pitter to make the process go a little quicker.
Rinse and drain your cherries thoroughly, pit them, and stuff them into freezer bags. Label them, and you’re done. Definitely remember to label them! There is nothing like going through the freezer looking at these bags that you have no idea what’s in them!
When choosing the size and number of freezer bags to use, ask yourself the question – what am I going to use the cherries in? Smoothies? Pies? Are you going to use a lot at once? Or a little bit at a time? And how much space do I have in my freezer? Sometimes smaller bags are easier to work with when you are tight on space.
Whatever you do, however you decide to ingest this magnificent fruit,… enjoy!