Local Cherries Hitting the Shelves
California cherries have been on the scene for a few weeks, but now is the time we show off our locally grow gems from Gilroy and Morgan Hill!
By Robbie Sigona
Local cherries – one of the fruits we know you look forward to all year – are finally hitting our shelves. Any day now we expect the first fruits from the legendary Andy’s Orchard, farmed by Andy Mariani in Morgan Hill, as well as gems from an outstanding crop grown by Richard Borello in Gilroy.
We’ve had a selection of California-grown cherries in for a few weeks. The first delivery came from the Bakersfield area, followed by Fresno and then Stockton. The locally grown cherries, however, arrive at Sigona’s within 24 hours of being picked – some are even picked in the morning and delivered that afternoon. I know I can’t wait to sample one from the box that’s still warm from the sun hitting the tree.
While cherries from outside our immediate local reach are quality fruits, we always look forward to working with our local farmers from Morgan Hill and Gilroy. Big, sweet, beautifully colored cherries…there’s almost no match for their quality and flavor.
“The crop is really sizing up nice this year; we should start harvest the first week of June and have some of our crop at Sigona’s by this weekend,” said Richard Borello, a local, third-generation grower in Gilroy.
Andy Mariani echoed Borello saying, “The crop is huge and the cherry size is good, considering the how much fruit there is. Also, harvest is late this year, by about five to seven days; we’ll start picking for local markets the first week of June.”
Mom, where do cherries come from?
In order to get the best cherry for your buck, it’s important to understand the season, growing regions and how weather affects the fruit.
The Bakersfield area is always the first to market around early to mid-May. That region’s fruit is sometimes rushed to stores because it’s the only game in town. Two to three weeks later we see some fruits from Fresno and Stockton, usually the Brooks variety, then Bings. Cherries from that area are usually pretty darn good, but sometimes the heat of the East Bay makes for soft fruit.
Shortly after the East Bay fruit arrives we welcome local fruit from the Santa Clara Valley. As the local harvest nears an end, cherries from Washington state start to make their rounds. Washington is a major player in the cherry market and produces some beautiful fruit, but when Washington fruit hits market, Californians start getting cherried out. However, it’s when the Washington and California markets collide that the price goes down about by half. This is typical of any produce item; when we have enough abundance to supply demand, the price always drops.
Earth, Wind &
Generally speaking, Eastern Washington has to deal with more extreme weather, at least cold-wise, than much of California. That region has cold winters followed by a temperamental springtime in which Mother Nature can bring freezing temperatures that kill new cherry buds, thus decreasing the size of the crop.
Just as with California, Washington state can also experience extreme heat and the occasional thunder storm during June and early July, a deadly combination for cherry growers.
Splits-Doubles & Spurs at Half Price
Rain, followed by high temperatures, can cause splits in cherries – those little (sometimes large) slits you find at the top near the stem or on the bottom of some cherries. Basically, the split is caused by the cherry bursting after it soaked up extra rain water and was then warmed by the sun. These cherries are still edible, but are only stable for about three days before they start to turn. You’ll see a lot of them at flea markets or small farmers’ markets sold at half price because most packing warehouses don’t accept splits.
Hot temperatures can also cause abnormalities in cherries, such as spurs and doubles, most of which stem from hotter zones such as Stockton, Lodi or Patterson.
“Doubles and spurs are caused by a lot of heat during the previous summer,” said Mariani. “As fruit is picked, buds for the next year begin to form. If there is a lot of heat, the buds split and make two stigmas. If both stigmas are pollinated you get a double-fused fruit, equal in size. If only one is pollinated then you have a spur, a small unformed cherry bud on one side of the developed cherry.”
There is nothing wrong with fruits that have spurs or doubles, they just look different (though you don’t want to eat the spur). Cherries can also be damaged by wind and the sun. Wind causes bruising and scuffing, or limb rub, on the fruit and the sun can actually cause sunburn.
“Growers kind of go through a gauntlet of natural phenomena to get good fruit in the end,” said Mariani. “So far this year we have minimal wind damage.”
Eeny, meeny, miny, moe
Bing, Garnet, Rainier, Brooks, Tulare, Van…do you have a favorite variety? Bings are a popular choice for their crisp crunch, deep red color and sweet flavor that’s paired with just the right amount of tart. The Brooks cherry, usually the first to market, is firm with a red color that’s lighter than a Bing, and then, of course, there is the delicate, yellow- and blush-colored Rainier. It has a sweetness that’s not overly sweet, but a handful definitely has enough to satisfy your sweet tooth.
Look for the other varieties in our store and let us know which is your favorite! We have a couple cherry recipes on our blog too for those of you who want to do something other with cherries than pile them in a bowl. Be sure to check out the recipe for Local, Wild King Salmon Alaskan Salmon with Roasted Cherries and Pistachios, courtesy of Danielle Krupa, owner and founder of Wellness Made Natural, LLC. It’s simply delicious!
See you in the store!