The cherry tree has existed throughout time. Large amounts of cherry pits were found during excavations made of Stone Age lakeside settlements in what is now Switzerland.
It is not clear whether they originated in Asia Minor or the East Asia, or how they spread across the planet. It is highly likely that it was birds – partial to cherries – that were responsible for spreading this tree by dropping pits during their migrations.
The cherry tree was already mentioned in the 4th century BC in Theophrastus’ Enquiry into Plants. Pliny wrote that Lucullus, Roman general and gastronome, had brought the first specimens of this tree to Italy from the city of Cerasus (on the Black Sea, where they were abundant) after his victory over Mithridates in 73 BC. But since there were cherry trees already growing in Italy, Gaul, and Greece well before this date, it seems he merely brought to Rome a different variety with larger fruit. In any case, the French word for cherry, cerise, comes from Cerasus.
Cherry growing in France dates from the beginning of the Middle Ages. Louis XV, who loved the fruit, encouraged its cultivation and fostered the development of new varieties. Entire orchards of cherries were planted at Montmorency. In order to increase production, the feet of the trees were smeared with whitewash and hot water was poured on them. At the end of the 19th century, Parisians were still going there to enjoy the sour cherries.
The cherry was introduced into North America during the colonial period. It is now grown in almost all of Europe, in Turkey, Iran, in many countries of South and North America, and in Japan, where there are many varieties of sakura, and where the blossoming of these trees is celebrated.
The freshness of a cherry is judged by the stalk. It should be green, firmly attached, and neither dry nor limp.
Fruit that is blemished, too black, too soft, and with matte skin should be discarded.
Fresh cherries are sold by weight.
Sweet and sour cherries are also available frozen, dried, canned and preserved in alcohol or vinegar, and candied.
They are also made into juice, gelatin desserts, and preserves.
Many liqueurs are made from cherries: German and Alsatian kirsch, Italian maraschino, and Portuguese ginga.
Cherries are very delicate and pass their prime quickly. They continue to ripen after picking and go bad very quickly.
It is recommendable that they be used as soon as possible and to plan ahead when buying so as not to have to store them for too long. Otherwise, they should be kept in a cool place.
Cherries have quite a high carbohydrate content, a small part of which comprises sorbitol, a laxative. They also contain lots of fiber.
Like all red fruit, they contain a large amount of antioxidants (vitamin C, polyphenols, flavonoids, etc.), especially sour cherries. They are also high in minerals.
There are two main types of cherry tree:
the wild cherry, also known as sweet cherry, bird cherry, or gean, the fruit of which is the cherry.
This tree has given rise to the development of different varieties for cultivation, all of which produce sweet cherries.
. Burlat: large, purple fruit, moderately firm flesh. The earliest variety: May/June.
. Stark Hardy Giant: large, purple to black fruit, light red flesh, very juicy. June/July.
. Van: somewhat large, shiny fruit, pink and juicy flesh. June/July.
. Summit: Very large bright red fruit, very pale pink flesh. June/July.
. Reverchon: crimson, very firm, pink flesh. June/July.
. Napoleon: crimson mixed with pale yellow, light flesh. June/July.
. Sunburst: reddish orange streaks, light red flesh. June/July.
. Géant d’Hedelfingen: somewhat large, reddish orange, light red flesh. Late June.
. Duroni 3: shiny purple fruit, pink flesh. Halfway through July.
. Sour cherry, which bears fruit of the same name.
There are two varieties of sour cherry grown:
. Montmorency: small, creamy white flesh. June.
. Morello cherry: small bright red fruit with red flesh. June/July.
Cerise Royale: this is the result of crossing the two species.