As our crew is wrapping up picking our cherry crop, I am reminded at the amazing flavor and taste of this tiny fruit. We have 3 varieties of cherries: Bings, Skeena and Sweethearts. They ripen and are picked in that order. This is the first year we’ve had a crop of Sweethearts as they’ve either been frozen out or the birds have eaten the few we had.
One of the big challenges of cherries (besides them actually making it through spring frost) is knowing when to pick them. We want a cherry that hangs on the tree, ripening and getting the most of the sweet flavor we love. The challenge is the longer we wait to pick them, the more of a heyday the birds have eating those ripening delectable bites. Robins, sparrows, finches LOVE cherries and will eat, eat, eat. There’s a saying in the fruit business that goes, “If you have 100% cherry crop, the birds will eat 10%. If you have a 10% crop, the birds will eat 100%”. We find that to be true. This year we’ve had a small crop and are walking the line of keeping the cherries on the tree to ripen, versus the birds eating what we have. Another factor in waiting to pick cherries is rain. While we want and need the moisture, a ripe cherry will split if it rains. And customers do not want a cherry with a split down the middle!
Picking cherries is time-consuming as the cherry has to be picked by the stem, not the fruit. This makes for slower picking–it’s much faster to grab the cherry and pull. But then the stem is left on the tree and people prefer cherries with stems–green one’s at that! There can be significant variation in ripeness on a tree and our crew looks for a dark mahogany color. If we have a tote full of cherries that are light-colored, we can bet that they will not taste like much.
Lastly, cherries have to be kept cold. Our crew picks them in the morning when it’s cooler and they are refrigerated immediately. This helps maintain the sweet flavor and keeps the stems green. Cherries are so perishable! That’s why it’s best to just go straight out into the orchard, climb a tree and eat them right away. We find that a 12 year old up a cherry tree keeps the birds away as well…