Delicious juicy cherries are one of the few fruits available today that remain true to their short but sweet season – typically starting in South Australia, New South Wales and Queensland in late October and finishing by late February in Victoria. They must only be picked when ripe, as once they're removed from the tree, they do not ripen further. This leaves you with a small and fragile product that not only requires gentle hands, but must also be sold fairly quickly. The colour of cherries and their name are intertwined in history – when Turkey was known as Asia Minor, there was a city called Cerasus (now Gireseun), from where cherries were first exported to Europe. Cerasus is the origin of the name cerise, which in French refers to both the hue and the fruit.
Cherry blossom girl
Fruit-producing cherry trees have a delicate white flower, but are unrelated to the beautiful ornamental cherry blossom trees associated with Japan and the famous national festival in their honour. The tradition of celebrating cherries in season is also practised here in Australia. NSW has the honor of being the largest producer of cherries in Australia and in Young, the cherry capital, there is an annual cherry festival, a three-day event featuring a cherry pie-eating competition, and which culminates in a parade and the crowing of a Cherry Queen. Also, at Sydney Markets in Flemington, the main wholesaler of fruits and vegetables, the first of the season’s cherries are auctioned off to charity – the first two boxes totaling 10 kg sold in 2013 for $50,000!
Cherry red corvette
For me, cherries are closely associated with summer, holidays, road trips and Christmas – all very exciting moments, especially as a child. Some cherry memories include: a car excursion along the Great Ocean Road with my mum that involved a bag of cherries and the determination to learn how to tie a cherry stem with my tongue; the excitement of finding two cherries with their stalks still attached so you could pretend they were earrings; Hubba Bubba’s cherry-flavoured bubble gum that was sadly only available for a brief moment – I've searched for it since to no avail.
Cherries are related to plums, peaches and nectarines – all stone fruits, which are referred to as ‘dupes’ and classified as having one stone surrounded by tasty flesh wrapped in a thin skin. They come in two types: sweet and sour. The sweet ones are readily available and include varieties such as Bing, Lapins and also the pretty white cherries called Rainier, which appear later in the season. The darker red cherries are often soft, juicy and richer than the white varieties, which have a crisper feel in the mouth and a slightly tangier flavour. Sour cherries, morello being the most common, are harder to come by, but their sourness makes them ideal for desserts (they're especially delicious cooked into a classic American cherry pie). Sour cherries can be more easily found in their dried form and are often paired with lamb in a rich Moroccan tagine. However, I like to use them in a delicious bread with fennel seeds to serve with a cheese plate. Other great combinations are pickled cherries with rich pate or cured meats, or a piece of roasted pork served with a sweet and sticky cherry compote.
Because the cherry season is so limited, I try and make the most of their exclusivity in the following ways: infusing alcohol with cherries to make a potent cherry liquor; gently crushing the stones and using them when cooking cherries – they release a slight almond flavour, which adds an interesting dimension; and at Berta we have a pre-Christmas tradition of pickling cherries.
Despite not getting excited about maraschino cherries (their lurid brightness is enough to scare me off them, especially the green ones), they are a common cocktail garnish and feature in an Old Fashioned, a drink I am fond of. There was also a delicious martini I once tried with a morello cherry, which gave the drink a subtle sweetness and gave it a beautiful dusky shade of pink. However, despite all the excellent, tasty and clever things that can be done with cherries, I still believe their flavour is unimproved by meddling (ah, except the following recipes, of course!). They are best eaten perfectly ripe and fresh from a bowl whilst lounging in the sun.