Sadly, our UK cherry orchards are in decline and most of our cherries are now imported from abroad.
The cherry is part of the same family as the peach, apricot, plum and almond...namely the Rosaceae family.
These small, red fleshy fruits are believed to have been first introduced to Britain in the 1st Century A.D. by the Romans, having first discovered the little fruit in the Asia Minor in 700 BC. In days of old cherries were used for medicinal purposes as well as for culinary uses.
Studies suggest that the cherry has many health benefits, one of which is its ability to provide pain relief for people suffering from arthritis owing to its anti-inflammatory properties. It's said that eating 20 tart cherries each day can effectively help in the fight against inflammation.
Cherries are also known to be high in antioxidants and melatonin, known to destroy toxins which may cause certain diseases such as heart disease and cancer. They are low in cholesterol, fat and sodium and are a good source of Vitamin C and fibre.
Obviously, cherries are very versatile in the kitchen and can be used for a myriad of dishes. They can be used in savoury dishes as well as desserts, pickles as well as jams, hot pies as well as frozen sorbets, alcoholic cocktails as well as soft drinks and they're the perfect accompaniment for anything chocolate-based.
When buying your cherries try to buy them loose as opposed to ready packaged as this will give you more opportunity to examine the quality. Choose shiny, not dull looking cherries. Avoid choosing cherries that show signs of shrivel or bruising and variations in colour. If a batch of cherries differ widely in colour, i.e. light red to dark red, this can be an indication of poor maturity control at harvest, which will result in mixed quality and, therefore, mixed enjoyment when eating the cherries. Also, take notice of the stalks when choosing your cherries. These should be green and fresh looking, not brown. Obviously when choosing cherries, the bigger the better - more cherry, more flesh.
Cherries taste nicer if they're left allowed to raise to room temperature before eating. However, they can be kept in the fridge for a few days to keep their condition. Whatever you decide to use your cherries for, a little time taken before buying instead of simply throwing a punnet into your shopping trolley, will provide much nicer results.
Hopefully we can help our British cherry orchards to thrive and grow!