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16 July 2012

A Cherry on Top for National Cherry Day

Photo: © childsdesign

When travelling around Britain it is not difficult to notice that the word orchard is synonymous with many roads, avenues, views, places etc., but the most unnerving thing is that these locations do not lead to vast collections of fruit trees, but instead they are occupied by housing developments.
Once, Britain was covered with acres of majestic cherry trees, but these have given way to our burgeoning population and they’ve also suffered losses due to the Second World War that demanded other types of food production to be implemented to save our country from starvation, not to mention the further collapse of the cherry growing industry due to foreign imports.

Growers are being encouraged to reinstate the great British cherry by planting up new orchards with old varieties and with National Cherry Day on 16th July we should all be buying and using British cherries.

Are cherries native to Britain?
Wild cherries (Prunus avium) have been eaten in Britain since prehistoric times. The Romans had a particular taste for them too and it is said that it’s possible to trace the route of ancient roads by the cherry trees growing there. Romans marching through Britain would munch on cherries, spitting out the stones as they went, and new trees grew as a result.

It seems there are many theories about how the cherry came to Britain, its origins beginning in the area between the Black and Caspian Seas of Asia Minor and suggestions that birds consuming the fruit would have deposited the pips in their droppings over Europe.

Photo: © childsdesign

History and cultivation
Cultivation probably began with the ancient Greeks and perpetuated by the Romans, where it was believed to be an essential part of the Legionnaires’ diets.
During the Middle Ages cherries were a common sight in gardens and were sold in street markets, however, at this time, Europe was still the main source of the fruit, where the climate afforded a more plentiful crop.

It wasn’t until the sixteenth century that heavier cultivation took place, Kent becoming the centre of Britain’s fruit growing due to good transport links to London’s markets and the connection with growers and gardeners across the Channel.

It was customary to cultivate cherry trees as tall standards with grass beneath. The orchards would be grazed by sheep. Until the twentieth century rootstocks were obtained from the wild cherry which produced towering trees, requiring long ladders to pick the fruit. Climbing so high was not always appealing as well as dangerous so producers began experimenting with less vigorous rootstocks to produce shorter trees but still giving a high fruit yield.

The science bit (sort of)
As with most fresh fruit it is not surprising to know that cherries are good for us. Cherries contain anthocyanins, the compound that makes them red. Anthocyanins have been shown to have antioxidant properties, which can guard against certain cancers and diabetes. Other studies have shown that cherries can also help to ease the pain of arthritis, fight memory loss, lower cholesterol and help our sleep patterns. And to top it all they contain 20 times more beta carotene than blueberries.

Cherries do pack a lot of goodness but they also contain cyanide. Our bodies are able to break down the small quantites that the fruit contain, so there’s no need for concern. The toxin is greatly concentrated in the pips, but if one or two were swallowed, no harm would occur as they’re unlikely to be broken down enough in the digestive system.

What is the best way to serve them?
When the cherries are red, shiny and fully ripe and in their prime, then eat them as they are. They need no accompaniment, just simply plucked from the bowl and enjoyed at their natural best.

Cherry and Goat's Cheese Salad.
Recipe here
Desserts, are of course, one of the most-fitting ways to use them, most obviously pies and tarts or the clafoutis a French dish where marinated cherries are cooked in a rich batter. Cherries are also a perfect partner to chocolate too.
They can be made into a traditional sauce for duck or game, and they ideally complement soft white cheeses as well.
Try them with Smoked Duck from The Artisan Smokehouse.

Womersley Fruit and Herb Vinegars make a Cherry Vinegar which they say is a heavenly match for Italian cuisine. It can be married with Parma Ham, grilled scallops and mozzarella salads, or united with desserts that have lashings of chocolate, mascarpone and ice-cream. The robust character makes it good to add to sauces for duck and turkey, or teamed with sparkling wine for a vivid aperitif.

Cherry picks
Some interesting and fun facts about cherries
:: Charles V of France loved cherries so much, he planted more than 1000 trees in his garden.
:: Hot cherry stones were used in bed pans to warm beds.
:: The word ‘cherry’ comes from the French word ‘cerise,’ which in turn comes from the Latin words cerasum and Cerasus, the classical name of the modern city Giresun in Turkey.
:: Cherries are drupes, or stone fruits, and are related to plums, peaches and nectarines.
:: The world's heaviest cherry was grown by Gerardo Maggipinto (Italy) and weighed 21.69 g on June 21, 2003. The cherry was presented at La Grande Ciliegia, in Sammichele di Bari, Italy.
:: In Japan, the cherry symbolises the brevity of life. The saying goes ‘The cherry is among flowers as the samurai is among men’.
:: If you dream of cherries...
Ripe cherries off the tree mean success and happiness .
Eating cherries means possession of something desired
A cherry tree is an omen of good fortune.
:: The name for cherry liqueur – Kirsch – comes from the Mesopotamian karshu, the word for the first cultivated cherries in Mesopotamia in 8BC.
:: Shakespeare used cherries as a symbol of love and romance in A Midsummer Night's Dream.
:: A posh pudding in country houses a couple of centuries ago was to have small cherry trees grown in pots and brought to the table with the fruit still hanging on the branch.

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