After this long winter and spring, cherries are now in season, which are one of the first fruits to appear. These days, the fruit peddlers' carts are piled high with mountains of cherries, some vendors taking time to bunch them together in a sort of bouquet.
The bright magenta red cherries and the golden yellow skin are as beautiful and alluring as glossy adverts for nail polish and lipstick in the pages of fashion magazines. The sea of cherries on vendors' carts on the streets of Beijing remind me of my visit to Pike Street market in Seattle several years ago. It was early summer and the market was loaded with Bing cherries, the most popular sweet variety.
This variety of cherry was developed at the Lewelling Nursery in Salem, Oregon, which was known as the Cherry City because of its fine display of cherries at their annual Cherry Fair. I was surprised to read that the Bing cherry was named after a Chinese helper who worked at the nursery.
Bing cherries are the sweet blackish cherries for eating while the smaller Early Richmond, Montmorency and Morello cherries are the sour types for cooking. The last category is a hybrid, a cross between sweet and tart cherries, such as Duke and Royal Anne, which are ideal for both eating and cooking.
The cherry is native to the Black Sea area, but the ancient Chinese are said to have been the first to cultivate cherry trees. The fruit was perfected by the Greeks and Romans, who planted cherry trees across Europe.
The Romans planted cherry trees as a staple for the Roman armies, but the Japanese grew them purely for their beautiful blossoms. It was said that a fifth century Japanese emperor drank his sake under a cherry tree every day. Today, people from around the world visit Japan during springtime to take pictures of the blossoming cherry orchards.
This is the best time to get your dose of fresh cherries as the supply is plentiful and the prices are good. Cherries are selling for between 8 yuan to 15 yuan per jin (1 jin equals 500 g) depending on the size.
Cherries are grown around the Beijing area, in Yantai, Shandong province and Chongqing. The type of cherries we have here are not like the sweet juicy cherries in the United States, but are tart like amarelle-type cherries, with a yellow flesh and clear juice.
The morello, sometimes also available in China, is another type of red-fleshed sour cherry with red juice. Both are perfect for baking or cooking to make a delicious syrup.