By Mira Reverente
The earliest varieties of sweet cherries have arrived!
Closely related to plums and peaches, cherries are packed with antioxidants and fiber. Introduced in California by Spanish missionaries, there are countless varieties of this luscious red fruit.
Growers and vendors usually group them into two main categories – sweet cherries and sour cherries. Sweet cherries are best eaten raw while sour cherries are good for pies, desserts, jams, preserves and cocktails.
Sweet cherries have short seasons. Snatch these savory spring treats while they’re around.
European in origin, Burlat cherries are bright red, moderately firm and juicy.
Nicholas Family Farms was the only grower carrying this variety last Saturday. “We’ll probably have them for a few more weeks before another variety comes in,” said owner Penny Nicholas.
Based in Orange Cove, near Fresno, Nicholas Family Farms is a year-round fruit grower. Aside from cherries, they have a wide selection of citrus.
“These are not as common as the others, but they are slowly gaining a following in this market,” said Nicholas, who pointed out that they were almost gone with the market only being open for three hours.
A 1.5-pound container of Burlat cherries was selling for $7.
Over at the stall of Avila and Sons, one of the most common and widely recognized cherry varieties was available in abundance.
Bing cherries are known for their distinctive heart shape and deep red color. Intensely sweet and flavorful, they are usually in season from May to early August.
Bing cherries are always in high demand, according to a staff member. “This is a very popular variety and people always ask for them,” he said.
For Bing cherries, it is better to wait a little bit. They are sweeter later in the season.
A 1.5-pound container was priced at $5 or two for $9.
Buying and Storage Tips
1) Taste them if possible.
2) Do not buy more than what you can eat in a few days. Once they mature, the cherries can rot quickly.
3) Choose cherries without blemishes, cracks or splits.
4) Look for shiny, plump fruits with taut skins and supple green stems.
5) Store unwashed seven to 10 days in the refrigerator or nine to 12 months in the freezer.
Nicholas Family Farms grows at least 12 other sweet cherry varieties. “They overlap a bit and should be coming in soon one after the other,” said Nicholas.
Expect to see Brooks, a Burlat and Rainier hybrid very soon followed by Sweet Rainier, which is distinctly yellow in color with a bit of red blush. Keep an eye out, too, for the Tulare and Sweetheart varieties.
*The Calabasas Farmers Market is open from 8 am to 1 pm every Saturday at 23504 Calabasas Road, across the street from the Sagebrush Cantina.