Original article found HERE
Published in the Toronto Star on Wed, June 21st, 2017. Author: Cynthia David
Either pick your own at a local farm or wait for them to arrive in stores or at farmers markets.
At 20 Valley Harvest Farms in Niagara, just off the QEW, life really is a bowl of cherries.
Surrounded by 20 acres of mature trees laden with nearly ripe sweet and tart cherries, fourth-generation grower Paula Bryk is one of a small band of Ontario farmers struggling to keep this once-thriving crop alive.
“The industry used to be a lot bigger,” says Bryk, whose father farmed 70 acres of mostly tart cherries for now-vanished processing plants.
Along with the cost of caring for the trees, she says picking and packing ripe cherry clusters by hand requires significant people power at rates higher than the competition.
Instead of pulling out her cherry orchard like so many other growers to plant something more lucrative, she turned her farm into a pick-your-own operation last year for locals and tourists on their way to Niagara Falls.
“Pick-your-own is the only way I can continue to grow cherries,” she says. “We can’t compete with Washington state (the world’s third largest grower) on price or volume and the province’s wage hike may eat up any margin we make selling to retail.”
This year’s Ontario cherry crop looks plentiful so far, with big fruit. Though cherries are extremely sensitive to weather and can split if it rains during harvest, she’s hopeful the cool nights and abundant spring rain will make the skins a little more resilient.
As for harvesting your own bowl of cherries, most 20 Valley fruit is easily picked without a ladder from low-hanging branches. Bryk sells fruit from the upper branches at farmers’ markets including Don Mills, Wychwood Barns (July), Oakville and Beamsville.
While most Canadians prefer sweet cherries, Eastern Europeans, Persians and other groups who grew up cooking with sour cherries are delighted to hear she also grows lots of bright red Montmorency tart cherries, courtesy of her Polish ancestors. They ripen a week or two later than the sweet cherries.
In the meantime, fans are impatiently scanning farm websites to learn when Ontario cherries will be ripe for the picking.
“If the hot weather continues it will be the end of June,” she predicts.
Last year’s Ontario crop lasted until the end of July, but she advises cherry lovers to come early and fill their pails for eating fresh, pies and freezing.
“The faster they’re picked,” she says, “the shorter the season is.”
With luck, we’ll be celebrating Canada Day with locally grown cherries jubilee over ice cream.
One cup (250 mL) raw, sweet cherries are a source of Vitamin C and potassium and contain just 81 calories. The deep red colour is due to anthocyanins, antioxidants that may help reduce inflammation.
Buy & Store
- Look for intact stems, which keep cherries fresher longer.
- Keep cherries cold. Refrigerate, unwashed, up to a week and keep dry. Open plastic bags to let the fruit breathe.
- Some supermarkets still sell pails of frozen Ontario tart cherries. Or contact Cherry Lane in Vineland Station.
- Do not wash cherries until you’re ready to eat as they will spoil faster.
- Look through them at home and remove any bruised cherries immediately.
- If you have big cherries and no cherry pitter, try this. Remove stem and hold cherry over the mouth of an empty wine bottle or water bottle. Push down firmly with a chopstick until pit falls into the bottle.
- Use fresh or frozen cherries in crisps, smoothies, jam, pies, clafouti and cherries jubilee over vanilla ice cream.
- Think savoury with a cherry barbecue sauce, compote or vinaigrette.
Sweet Cherry Scones
These coffee shop-worthy scones from Foodland Ontario are surprisingly light considering they contain so little butter. I needed a little more flour to knead but they turned out great. Serve hot with butter or honey.
1-1/2 cups (375 mL) whole, stemmed sweet cherries
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tbsp (25 mL) granulated sugar
1 tbsp (15 mL) baking powder
1/2 tsp (2 mL) salt
2 tbsp (30 mL) each cold butter and vegetable oil
3/4 cup (175 mL) milk
1 tsp (5 mL) vanilla extract
Preheat oven to 450F (230C). Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.
Pit cherries and coarsely chop; drain on paper towel or in colander.
In large bowl, stir together flour, sugar, baking powder and salt. Using pastry blender or fingers, work in butter until in small bits. Stir in drained cherries. Make a well in centre. Stir together oil, milk and vanilla; pour into well and stir just until firm dough forms.
Turn out onto a lightly-floured surface. Knead three times. Divide in half and pat each half into 6-inch (15 cm) circle 3/4-inch (2 cm) thick. Cut each half into 6 wedges.
Place scones slightly apart on baking sheet. Bake on rack above centre of 450°F (230C) oven until golden, 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on wire rack.
Makes 12 scones.
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