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Sunday September 1, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday September 1, 2013 MYT 7:42:14 AM
by norman miller
Delicious swig: Britain has been enjoying a cherry bonanza, and it’s due to the cold, grey spring.
The cherry season in Britain used to be fleeting, but new varieties can be sampled all summer long.
CHERRIES must be the finest of all fruits – if sayings tell you anything. We cherry-pick the best, then pop one on the cake to signify perfection at those moments when life is just a bowl of the things. Like now, when Britain has been enjoying a cherry bonanza.
This year’s harvest trebled the meagre haul of 2012, thanks, strangely, to the cold, grey spring.
That led to these most beautiful of trees blossoming late and fruit developing more slowly, before things kicked into overdrive with the sunshine. Waitrose buyer Nicki Baggott says: “I’m eating 40 to 50 different samples of cherry a week, and this is the best eating for years.”
It couldn’t have come at a better time for a long-suffering industry.
Between 1900 and the 70s, 90% of Britain’s cherry orchards vanished as harvesting problems and imports took their toll.
But the past decade has seen a resurgence of planting, which has augmented the traditional cherry heartland of Kent and Hertfordshire with new orchards in Hampshire, Staffordshire and as far north as Scotland. Tall, hard-to-harvest trees have been replaced with shorter, heavier-cropping varieties.
British cherries remain an expensive treat, mainly due to the shortness of the season that until recently could last as little as a fortnight.
In supermarkets you’ll pay around £8 to £9 (RM41 to RM46) a kilo – and imports aren’t any cheaper due to transport costs. But scout out the roadside cherry vendors who pop up at this time of year, and they’ll do you a bulging brown bag of goodness for nearer £7 (RM35) a kilo.
Even this year’s bumper harvest and new varieties extending the season doesn’t mean bargains, as demand still far exceeds supply. “We’ve only got half the volume to satisfy the British market,” says Jon Clark of producers’ organisation Total Cherry. But he reveals plans to introduce further varieties to try to get British cherries cropping in June. “Wouldn’t it be great to have 100 days of British cherries?”
About 20 cherry varieties are cultivated in Britain, each offering distinctive qualities as well as a spread of harvest times across July and August. Early-ripening merchant is a large, sweet, dark-red beauty, while kordia is a good, medium-sized, firm-fleshed mid-season cherry.
Late-season stars include dark, juicy lapins and sweet charmers such as colney, sweetheart and penny. Staccato has been introduced from Canada to extend the season another precious week or two.
Henry VIII ordered cherries to be introduced to Kent after tasting them in France, and he would have approved of today’s British cherries: bigger, sweeter and juicier than foreign rivals. Clark says: “UK growers leave their cherries on the tree for an extra few days – and sugars increase dramatically in the last few days.” They’re healthy, too – rich in antioxidants called anthocyanins, plus high levels of vitamin C and a dose of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin.
While cherries tend to be wheeled out for dessert, chefs love their ability to add a unique combination of sweet and tart to dishes, along with a splash of ruby eye candy. “We do all sorts of things with British cherries, from a batter pudding to a flamed duck dish,” says restaurateur Mark Hix. “I like morello – always plump and sweet, with great colour.”
Cherries go with booze, too – and not just as a garnish. Try a cherry-flavoured vodka or make your own cherry brandy. Not only do you end up with something delicious to knock back, but also a supply of “drunken cherries” – fabulous with ice-cream.
Then there’s the beer. The Belgians have long been renowned for cherry-flavoured kriek lambic brews, but they’ve now got serious British competition. Samuel Smith’s cherry beer, with 17% organic cherry juice, has proved a huge hit with drinkers thanks to its complex progression from sweetness to pleasing tartness. The cut of cherry through malt in Dunham Massey’s Chocolate Cherry Mild, meanwhile, earned it the nod as Britain’s best speciality beer at last year’s Great British beer festival.
With fruit-flavoured brews now the fastest-growing British beer sector – sales rose 80% last year – here’s a toast: cheers to cherries! – Guardian News & Media
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Lifestyle, cherries, Cherry Ale, fruit, Britain, cherry season, Morello
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