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California Cherries

Sweet and delicious ruby red organic California Bing cherries will only be around at Earl’s for another week or two.  The cherry season is very short in California and typically lasts 4 to 6 weeks depending on the weather or variety.  Bing cherries are now moving from the Sacramento, Stockton and Lodi areas up to Oregon and Washington.  Other varieties grown in California include Sequoia, Tulare, Brooks, Chelan, Lapin and Rainier although not all are found organically. California has a combination of nutrient-rich soil, abundant sunshine and mild temperatures, producing sweet fruit. Cherries are grown in many different states but today we are specifically talking about California cherries. 

Bing Cherries

Cherries are a small and delicate fruit and need to be handled with extreme care.  It is quite amazing that cherries are able to grow so well considering the obstacles from Mother Nature they have to face.  Cherries are one of the first fruits to blossom at the end of March but this is also the time where the rain or wind can knock the blossoms off the tree before they have had a chance to fruit.  Once the cherries have already started to grow on the tree, the rain or wind can cause the cherries to split or crack and that part of the crop is lost.  The cherries dangle together in groups of 2 to 6 pieces of fruit and the wind can cause them to bang up against each other, causing bruising on the shoulders of the fruit, the area near the stem.

There is not a lot you can do to protect the trees from the rain and wind.  Helicopters can be hired after the rain to blow air on the cherries to dry them out, taking about 5 minutes for every acre.  This is a very expensive option.  A less expensive option when the fields are not too muddy and you can get into the orchard with a tractor, is to use empty air sprayers to blow air up under the fruit to dry them out.

More obstacles can occur if there is a heat wave, causing the cherries to ripen on the tree too quickly and cause splits. If the weather isn’t warm enough the bees won’t come out to pollinate the tree and of course there is also the problem of birds pecking at the fruit.

This year California had some weather problems which affected the cherry crop.  California was hit with hard rain at the end of April, pushing the Bing cherry season to start later and shortened the season to 4 weeks.  Northern California also experienced a mixture of cold, then hot and then cold weather again during the blooming season, resulting in mixed maturity on the tree.  Instead of having mostly medium sized fruit which is preferred, the trees were producing more small and large fruit. The pit size is the same no matter how big the cherry is and that is why medium and larger sized cherries are sought after.

All cherries are hand-picked and put into a bucket around the neck.  From there they are placed in a tub which gets transferred into a bigger bin. The cherries are then hydrocooled in gradually cool to cold water.   If the water is too cool at the start it will cause pitting on the fruit. First the cherries are hydrocooled on the field in 50-55 degree water.  The cherries are then placed in bins and stacked 4 to 6 high before going inside the next hydrocooler where the water is 33 degrees. The water washes the cherries and cools the inner temperature of the fruit so the integrity of the cherry will last from picking to delivery at your local store and finally home to your kitchen.

You want to choose bright looking, plump, dark colored cherries and avoid wrinkly fruit.  Check the stem areas for rot and splits at the blossom end.  The darker the color the sweeter the fruit and the firmer the fruit the longer they last.  Store ripe cherries in the refrigerator until ready to use and wash cherries before eating.   Cherries are very low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium.  They’re also a good source of dietary fiber and vitamin C and loaded with potassium, a natural blood-pressure reducer.

Bing cherries packed in cello bags

Cherries are at their absolute best out of hand but once pitted they can be tossed in a salad, mixed in a cocktail or try a smoky cherry salsa paired with pork fajitas Find more amazing cherry recipes here.

Fun fact: Did you know Bing cherries were introduced in Oregon in 1875, named by horticulturist Seth Lewelling for his Chinese-American foreman, Ah Bing.

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