Markets, farm shops and roadside stalls are currently piled high with punnets overflowing with vivid scarlet and deep red cherries. Available over a short six-week season, these delicious soft fruits are great for snacking and cooking with, writes Tunbridge Wells Farmers’ Market Manager Bruce McMichael
THE owner of the Groombridge Farm Shop near Tunbridge Wells demonstrates how popular cherries can be: “It takes three kilograms to make one litre of Dallaways Cherry Juice, with no added water or sugar, and costs nearly £7 a bottle, but still customers come in and order cases,” says Michael Bourne.
The farmer and producer grows cherries in Sandhurst and runs the popular Rent A Cherry Tree scheme, where you can rent a tree for a year and experience it growing and flowering before picking the berries.
Dallaways’ cherries are sold in various farmers’ markets, including Tunbridge Wells and Penshurst and at the Groombridge Farm Shop.
It’s from the latter that Mr Bourne, of New Park Farm, also sells other seasonal soft fruits, including gooseberries and raspberries grown on the farm’s 12 hectares near Groombridge village. Cherry orchards support other plants and animals. The trees also host mistletoe, and the blossom and fruit provide nourishment for many birds, bees and other insects.
“Cherries are notoriously hard to grow,” says Mr Bourne. “You’ll have one average year, one good year and one bad year of harvest. If the weather is too wet, or there isn’t enough sun, then the harvest will be poor.
“Luckily, this year we have had a good harvest and the fruit is plump and tasty.”
The Kentish cherry season is just six weeks long, starting in mid-June, and easily spotted by pop-up roadside stalls decorated with bright red parasols shading stacks of punnets overflowing with freshly picked local fruit.
Cherries are often eaten as a super-fruit, promoted for their perceived effect against strokes, heart attacks and arthritis. But for most of us, it’s the sweet taste and juicy flesh that finds us drawn to the punnets packed with popular types such as Regina and Sweetheart (grown by Dallaways and New Park Farm), and Kordia, Colney and Penny (also available from Dallaways). Other varieties include popular dessert variety Stella, Sunburst for snacking, and the cooking and baking-friendly Morello.
Cherries are best eaten fresh during their summer season and are popular in lunchboxes, picnics and added to fruit salads. They can be poached and used in tarts or pies, and are the essential ingredient in Black Forest gateau, and perfect for the French pudding clafoutis. And for centuries, many of us have predicted who we’ll marry using the cherry stone folklore counting rhyme ‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor, rich man, poor man…’
The UK’s National Fruit Collection is held at Brogdale Farm in Kent, and is home to more than 300 varieties of cherry ranging in colour from bright scarlet to nearly black.
However, during the 20th century Britain lost 90 per cent of its cherry orchards, and while more are being replanted, the UK still imports around 95 per cent of its cherries. For example, the Picota cherries from the southern Spain province of Extremadura.
At this time of year, cherries are available in all local farmers’ markets – but get them while you can as the season is all too short and sweet…
LOCAL farmers’ markets
Find details of your nearest farmers’ market below:
(Town Hall), 2nd & 4th Saturday of the month, 9am-2pm
(The Pantiles) 1st & 3rd Saturday of the month, 10am-4pm
(Sovereign Way) 2nd Sunday of the month, 9.30am-1.30pm
(Vestry Hall) 4th Saturday of the month, 9.30am-1pm
(St John’s Church Centre) Every Thursday, 9am-11am
(Memorial Hall) 1st Wednesday of the month, 9am-12noon
(Penshurst Place car park)
1st Saturday of the month,
(St Giles’ Church) Every Thursday, 9am-11am
(High Street) 4th Sunday of the month, 9.30am-1.30pm
For a full list of Kent farmers’ markets, go to www.kfma.org.uk
and for Sussex go to www.placestovisitsussex.co.uk/places/farmers-markets