Cherry

 

cherry copy.jpg
 

Rejoicing in the resurgence of this beautiful native fruit with an oh-so fleeting season

From the the deep red colour and sweetness of a stella, sasha or venus cherry, through to the pale rainier or napoleon cherries - there are so many interesting, delicious types to look out for as the season progresses. Some are heritage varieties, some are new breeds and strains. Many represent the most enormously heartening revival of Britain's cherry orchards.

In the 1950s we had around 18,000 acres of cherry fruit orchard in the UK. By the end of the century that was down to a slightly heartbreaking 1,000 acres. So much changed in 50 years in how we produce, sell and buy produce. British cherries - like many other native fruits - were the loser. The sprawling size of cherry trees made them undesirable to farm given the need to maximise crops and acreage. Even worse, cherries have a very short cropping season - running from June to early August, it is even shorter than the British farmers, cherries were not a priority crop. Little wonder we have ended up at a point where the vast majority of the cherries we eat in Britain are imported from the USA or Turkey. 

All of which makes the recent resurgence of British cherry orchards hugely encouraging. It is a modest resurgence, admittedly, but the more of us who choose to buy British cherries, the more of a chance there is of it continuing. As consumers we are - we all hope, anyway - more understanding than ever of the importance of buying seasonally, and trying to seek out produce that has nor been flown in from thousands of miles away. Smaller trees are being bred to help farmers make the choice to give over fruit-yielding space. Producers are putting the work in to come up with varieties that taste absolutely outstanding. 

Brogdate Farm is leading the charge, as it is with so many other orchard fruits. As the home of the National Fruit Collection it preserves over 325 different cherry varieties - not all of them produced on a sufficient scale to sell - which feels all the more fitting for being in Kent, the county that since the 1500s has been at the heart of the British cherry harvest. 

That was the period when cherry orchards were first properly established in this country as a crop for more than just private use or in monastic gardens. Kent was chosen partly because it was close to London for transporting and selling the cherries; partly also because its sandy, well-drained soil is perfect for cherry trees to flourish. Take a drive or an amble through modern Kent in spring and you will still be wowed by the ethereal spectacle of its blossoms, and then again in the summer by it delicious fruits. When you see Kent cherries for sale, I urge you to buy the. They will be so sweetly compulsive to eat I bet you end up with pink-stained fingers.