La Ciliegia - The cherry!
I am a cherry fanatic!
Once local strawberries are on the decline, my attention is drawn to cherries. And what better place than the Okanagan to grow, harvest, eat and enjoy them. With the development of late ripening cherries the Okanagan gives us a supply of fresh cherries from June to September. I not only consume far too many fresh cherries, but also manage to fill my freezer with pitted cherries ready for my winter consumption. My version of cherry jam is simply minced cherries with absolutely nothing added to it. This ‘jam’ will be thrown in the freezer where it will be ready to use in baking or top my breakfast toast or dessert ice cream.
Cherries originated in the Black and Caspian Sea areas. They were domesticated before recorded history. Cherries derive their name from the Turkish town of Cerasus. Turkey remains the largest cherry producing area in the world. In the “History of Plants”, the early botanist, Theophrastus, write that cherries had been known to the Greeks as early as the 3rd century BC. The Roman historian, Pliny the Elder, suggests that cherries were brought to Italy around 74 BC. They migrated to the Americas with the early 1600 settlers. In 1847, Henderson Lewelling brought nursery stock from Iowa to Oregon. These became the first cherry trees planted in the Pacific Northwest.
Sweet cherries, Prunus avium, and sour cherries, Prunus cerasus, are the two main species of cultivated cherries. They are related to plums and more distantly to peaches and nectarines. Prunus Virginiana, the chokecherry, grows in the wild throughout the Okanagan. Along with Saskatoon berries, blueberries, strawberries, huckleberries, gooseberries, black berries, black currants, and raspberries, the chokecherry was an important part of the syilx culture. The Okanagan names, Cherry Creek and Cherryville, give credence to this. The first non-native cherry trees arrived in the Okanagan in 1892, when 500 trees were planted by Lord and Lady Aberdeen at their Coldstream Ranch in Vernon.
Since 1892, cherry production in the Okanagan has grown steadily. Most of the cherry orchards were individually owned and grown in fairly small operations. One such family operation was run by the Geen family. The Geens have grown and sold cherries for over 119 years. They started out with a little fruit stand and sending truck loads of cherries to Vancouver markets. In the 80s and 90s buyers from New York, San Francisco, Taipei, London and Paris began to recognize the quality of their cherries so an international business has evolved. This has resulted in the Geen family expanding their operation into a world class operation that includes on site state of the art sorting and packaging facility that is tied into an efficient transportation network that ensures their cherries quickly reach world markets. The Geen’s ‘Jealous Fruits’ operation currently has 1500 acres growing on 25 farms from Kelowna to Kamloops and employs 1200 people. Their local sales are managed by cousin Domenic.
The northern location and high altitudes of some of the Okanagan farms, as well as the development of new varieties by the Summerland Research Station, has resulted in cherries being available long after most of the world has finished their production. As a child, I recall cherry season begin in early June and would typically last two weeks. Now I am in cherry heaven until the end of August. New later varieties available include Satin, Sweetheart, Stacatto, Soverign, Sentennial, Suite Note and Skeena.
For centuries, the area around Vicenza, Italy has been famous for its cherries. Every year festivals and events are organized to celebrate the ‘Ciliege’. One such event is La Notte Rossa, which marks the opening night of the Marostica two-week cherry festival. It is an evening of entertainment and music where shops stay open until very late and get in the spirit by dressing their window displays in all things cherry. Last year Guinness World Records witnessed a monster cherry, the heaviest cherry ever recorded. A ‘Carmen’ cherry was harvested by brothers Giuseppe and Alberto Rosso of Cascina Canape, in the Piemonte region. It weighed in at 33 grams (1.16 ounces) and had a circumference of 5 inches… it was as large as an apricot.
Topping off my love of cherries is a penchant for Bacio flavoured (hazelnut and chocolate) gelatto. I often treat myself, and you can too, to both fresh cherries and gelatto, all in one stop, at Sun City Cherries on Lakeshore Road, Kelowna.
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