The cherry is the fruit of the Prunus tree which has been growing in the UK for thousands of years and is considered native to the British Isles even though most believe they were introduced by the Romans. The British exported the cherry tree to America which is now the second largest cherry producer in the world after Turkey. Cherry trees can produce sweet or tart fruit but hybrids have been bred over the years resulting in varieties with perfectly balanced fruits. There are now hundreds of varieties of cherry, some of the most notable being the Nabella and Morello acidic varieties and Sunburst and Stella sweet varieties.
The British cherry season has traditionally been very short, only a few weeks, however advances in farming techniques have enabled the season to extend to almost 4 months from June to September. Cherries are available from overseas all year round and are highly regarded from California and parts of Australia. Look for cherries with bright unblemished skin. Cherries can be kept in the fridge for 3–4 days but allow to come to room temperature before serving.
Cherries are delicious enjoyed straight from the punnet as a summer snack or as part of a fruit salad. Cherries need to be stoned before cooking; this can be done very easily with a cherry pitter which can be bought at most good cookware shops. They can then be used in cakes, muffins and clafoutis and to make jam or even cherry brandy.
Cherries are frequently found at the end of a meal, either in cakes, puddings or pies. The Black Forest gâteau from Stephen Crane illustrates how well cherries work with chocolate to make a classic dessert cake. For something a little less rich, but still quite luxurious, Pascal Aussignac's Griotte cherry clafoutis is gorgeous as a dessert or for a French-inspired tea. Matthew Tomkinson's Cherries jubilee with vanilla and yoghurt panna cotta is another notable dessert with the creamy vanilla yoghurt panna cotta providing a contrast to the sharp, sumptuous taste of the cooked cherries.
Cherries can also be used in savoury dishes to offset rich and fatty meat; try Nuno Mendes' Pork secretos with artichokes and red wine tapioca or Luke Holder's Pigeon, coffee-cured foie gras, Isle of White cherries and spiced bread.
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