English cherries and how to cook them
Freshly picked cherries are one of the highlights of an English summer, so why are we flying them in from abroad?
Recently, a friend arrived with a small punnet of cherries from a local supermarket. They were okay, but lacked distinct flavour. A glance at the label revealed that they were from the USA. I checked out other local supermarkets and discovered cherries from Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain - which is such a shame, as sweet, juicy English cherries are one of summer's greatest pleasures and I think, far more delicious than imported fruit.
English cherries, their colours ranging from delicate pink-flushed gold through bright red to almost black, are in season for only about six weeks from the end of June. Sadly they're in danger of disappearing completely as the number of trees has decreased rapidly over the last fifty years, due to competition from cheaper overseas cherries.
Kent is famous for its excellent cherries, which have flourished there since Roman times. Cherry fairs, once held to celebrate the harvest have now made a welcome comeback in the county. The luscious fruits were taken to London in the past to be sold in the city's streets, where the cherry sellers cried their wares.
In Stuart times Rotherhithe was famous for its Cherry Garden and Londoners often spent a pleasant Saturday afternoon relaxing there. Samuel Pepys mentions visiting the area to buy cherries for his wife, in his famous diary.
You're most likely to find English cherries at farmers' markets or local greengrocers. Buy them as fresh as possible as they don't keep well; look for firm, glossy, plump fruits with green stems - brown stems indicate that the cherries are either too old or have been stored incorrectly- to the detriment of the flavour.
Wash cherries quickly under cold running water - never soak them. Cherries also freeze well. Wash and drain them, remove the stems, then spread out in a single layer on a plastic or metal tray and open freeze. When completely frozen, they can be packed in an airtight plastic freezer bag or box.
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I love eating raw cherries and also keep some to use in delicious cakes, desserts, ice cream and jam. I cook them with the stones in and remove them at the end of the cooking time for the best flavour. I poach cherries in wine to serve with ice cream and I also like to macerate cherries in good quality balsamic vinegar to accompany a rich savoury mousse or pâté. Fresh cherries are surprisingly delicious with creamy goats' cheese.
Feeling inspired? Why not try one of our delicious cherry recipes.