Hello my dear readers,
Let’s continue our journey in discovering our food.
Today I have for you one of my childhood’s favourite fruits: the cherries.
In this post you will discover:
- Cherries origins
- Cherries cultivation
- How to choose cherries
- How to store cherries
- How to use cherries
- Interesting facts about cherries
The cherry tree, which produces the juicy and sweet cherry, is called Prunus avium, a Latin name translatable with “bird cherry”, a tree belonging to the Rosaceae species.
The name derives from the Greek kérasos, then originated cerasa, the Portuguese cereja, the Spanish cereza, the French cerise and the English cherry.
As for its origins, Pliny the Elder tells us that it was imported from current Turkey to Rome in 72 BC. and from here cultivation spread throughout the empire.
In 1400 this fruit also had the honour of being represented in several paintings of sacred subject. They are also mentioned in poems by Garcia Lorca and Pablo Neruda and are protagonists of various popular sayings, a very well known is “one cherry leads to another”.
In 1700 its cultivation spread throughout Europe and in 1933 started the first festival dedicated to the cherry held in Marostica, Italy. I had the pleasure to visit Marostica during the cherry festival as is pretty close to our home, and is needless to say that I have eaten a lot of delicious cherries 🍒
Cherries are small fruits with a round shape, a sweet taste and varied colours.
The fruit contains only one hard, wood-coloured seed.
Normally red in colour, it can range depending on the variety, from the light yellow even white to the almost black red.
The Cherry Tree
The cherries are the fruit of a tree of the Rosaceae family (yes, that of the roses) which can reach up to 20 meters in height (even if the farmers, to facilitate the harvest, keep it at a lower height) which in spring is covered with beautiful almost white flowers, with pale pink features, especially near the stem.
Flowering is so spectacular that flower varieties of the plant have been grown for centuries in the East and especially in Japan.
In addition to Europe, cherry is also widely cultivated in Asia, Australia and America. With an annual harvest of around 150,000 quintals, Italy is one of the main cherry producers in Europe.
Two species of trees
I was looking for the varieties of the cherries and I have noticed that the names are completely different between Europe and US for example.
So to not create confusion I will just mention the 2 large species of cherry tree: the Prunus avium, or sweet cherry, and the Prunus cerasus, or sour cherry.
From the first species derive a few hundred varieties, which produce cherries that we can divide into two main categories: tender and firm.
The tender cherries have softer flesh and can be dark red or light in colour.
The firm cherries are larger in size with a firmer and crunchy flesh, dark red or black with red flesh, or light red with yellowish or rosacea flesh.
Sour cherry instead produces three different varieties: black cherries with an intense red color and used especially for making syrups and juices, Marasca cherries instead used by the canning industry to produce liqueurs and, finally, sour cherries, very sweet and in general to be eaten fresh or as preserves.
Cherry finds broad adaptation to the temperate-hot and temperate-cold conditions of Europe.
The areas where prolonged rains are frequent during the flowering period should be avoided because they hinder the fruit set, and during the ripening of the fruits because they cause the split.
The best soils are medium-textured or generally loose, even of a clayey nature, provided they are perfectly drained.
Cherries are harvested from mid-May to late June and only when they are ripe.
Cherries must be harvested when fully ripe because once detached from the tree they no longer ripen.
Cherries are a purely spring fruit.
Typically from mid-May to late June, maximum July depending on the variety.
How to choose cherries
If you purchase them, it is recommended to choose firm fruits, free of dents and cracks. The peduncle must be of a bright and intense green. The color must be bright and uniform.
If you have the change to pick them yourself directly from the tree even better.
How to store cherries
Cherries are very perishable fruits, which should be eaten as fresh as possible, within 7-14 days of their harvest if kept in a cool and slightly humid place, at + 2°, always contained in a paper bag and never in plastic in order to be able to keep their vitamins away from very aromatic foods, as these fruits absorb odours.
It is possible to recognize less fresh cherries because they are less hard to the touch, they can change both the color and the flavor and be wrinkled or moldy.
We can also freeze them, with or without stone, covered with a little sugar.
How cherries are used
Ideal for greedy and fresh snacks, they are perfect for fresh consumption.
And as we know, having only a few calories, “one cherry leads to another”.
When it is season it is pleasant to add them to fruit salads, ice cream and puddings. They are ideal for the preparation of spoon desserts and tarts.
Cherries in savoury preparations
In savoury preparations, cherries are sometimes accompanied with game or other meats.
My grandma used to do a very classic meal: roasted pork meat with creamy mashed potatoes accompanied by cherries sauce. That combination of salty, sweet and sour was heavenly delicious.
Cherries are best paired with herbs like sage, chives, and verbena; with dairy products like ricotta cheese and sweet cream; and with meats like pork and beef especially when black pepper is added.
Liqueur and cherry jam
They are also used for jams, syrups and liqueurs such as maraschino.
An interesting fact about the Maraschino cherry
The original Maraschino cherry is a Marasca cherry that was placed in an ocean water brine and then a liqueur made from the fruit’s juices. Developed in the 19th century, the Maraschino quickly became a hit in Europe. But Marasca cherries, which are native to Croatia, weren’t plentiful enough to keep up with demand, and as usually happens when there is too much demand, producers began cutting corners. By the time Maraschinos made their way to America, most manufacturers were using flavor extracts and cheap cherries, and some were even soaking the cherries in harmful chemicals, so that in 1912, the Food and Drug Administration issued a statement outlining real versus “imitation” Maraschino cherries. Ten years later, an Oregon horticulturalist developed a brining technique that used calcium salts, sugar, and food coloring. It’s a technique that seems is still used today in America and one that just might make you reconsider putting that “imitation” of Maraschino cherry on top.
Interesting Facts About Cherries
Regarding cherry tree a rich series of myths has flourished all over the world.
In Greek mythology it was the plant sacred to Venus and its fruits seemed to bring luck to lovers.
In Sicily it is said that the declarations of love made under a cherry tree will always be lucky.
Saxon legends tell that cherry trees host deities that protect the fields.
In Finland they say that the red colour of this fruit is the symbol of sin.
In English folklore it seems that dreaming a cherry tree foreshadows bad luck while if we move to the East in China it represents female beauty and Japan has made it the national symbol flower also providing an explanation for the pink colour of its flowers: it seems that originally they were white but after the samurai who fell in battle were buried under the cherry trees the petals turned pink due to the blood of the brave warriors; even the samurai who decided to commit suicide apparently chose to do it right under these trees.
Cherries represent in Japan beauty, courtesy, modesty, simplicity, spring and innocence. They also symbolize the transience of life, which is a major theme in Buddhism. The cherry blossom tree “Sakura” in Japanese, is known for its short but brilliant blooming season, a natural process that metaphorically describes human life.
The average life cycle of a cherry tree is about 20 years but some trees have attained age of 2-3 hundred years. However seems that 3 remarkable trees in Japan have reached an amazing age of 1000 years or more.
The world’s heaviest cherry was grown by Gerardo Maggipinto in Italy and weighed 21.69 g (0.76 oz) on 21 June 2003.
Canada holds the record for the biggest cherry pie that weighed 18,000 kg (38,683 pounds). Can you imagine such a huge pie?
Wood of cherry tree has fine structure and it is often used in the manufacture of furniture.
Remember to make three wishes the first time of the year that you eat cherries.
Plant a cherry tree close to home if you want to preserve it from adverse natural events but do not collect flowering branches to decorate the house: this seems to render the beneficial effect null.
On the other hand, as we know: one cherry leads to another!
These fruits, as well as tasty, have received increasing attention for their use in the medical field. In fact, they turn out to be fruits rich in minerals and antioxidants.
Stay tuned and next time we will discover the properties and benefits of cherries.
Thank you all for reading.