Saturday 17 July is National Cherry Day and there’s something to celebrate as British cherry orchards begin to grow again. During the 20th century Britain lost 90 per cent of our cherry orchards.
But between 2003 and 2008 they increased by 17 per cent. However, despite the good news, the UK still imports around 95 per cent of our cherries.
Food and Farming Minister, Jim Paice said:
“The taste of fresh cherries is as much a part of summer as the smell of freshly cut grass or a trip to the seaside. The British fruit industry is a vital part of our rural economy so what better excuse to tuck into some delicious and healthy British cherries on National Cherry Day.”
Cherries have been part of British culture for thousands of years but most of the cherries we see in the shops now are from Spain, Turkey and the USA. Here in the UK we grow juicy and flavoursome cherries and even export them to the Republic of Ireland. This weekend marks the peak in the British cherry harvest, so why not pick your own or look out for them in farm shops, greengrocers and some supermarkets.
Top Ten cherry facts
- Cherries belong to the plant genus Prunus, which also includes plums, peaches, apricots and almonds.
- Most of the cherries that we eat come from either the wild cherry (Prunus avium) or the sour cherry (Prunus cerasus).
- Wild cherry and sour cherry are thought to have originally come from Asia Minor (now Turkey). The Greek writer Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC) mentions them in Historia Plantarum (History of Plants). They were first brought to Britain by the Romans but the cherry orchards of Kent are claimed to have been created directly on the orders of Henry VIII after he tasted the fruit in Flanders.
- Are cherries the next super food? Like other red berries, cherries contain the red pigment anthocyanins and there are claims that this can reduce pain and inflammation in rats. Researchers are also investigating the possibility that tart cherry powder eaten by rats as part of a high-fat diet might reduce the amount of weight gain and body fat and reduce levels of cholesterol.
- Cherry orchards also support other plants and animals. Cherry trees host mistletoe and the blossom and fruit provide nourishment for many birds and insects.
- The National Fruit Collection, held at Brogdale Farm is home to more than 300 varieties of cherry. They range in colour from bright scarlet to nearly black.
- Cherry stones contain amygdalin, which becomes cyanide when metabolised by the body.
- At the start of the 20th Century there were more than 5,000 ha of cherry orchards in Kent. By the end of the century this was reduced to less than 600 ha.
- Girls have been predicting who they’ll marry using the cherry stone counting rhyme ‘Tinker, tailor, soldier, sailor’ for centuries. The first written record with these professions grouped together dates from 1695.
- Before the invention of the hot water bottle, heated cherry stones were placed in pans to warm up beds on cold winter nights.