Best climate: unless you live in a cold climate zone such as mountain areas, cool inland tableland districts such as Young and Orange in NSW, or cool parts of Tasmania or Victoria, you won’t have much luck growing cherries. Everywhere else, just enjoy the delicious fruit now, when they’re in season.
Growing tips: to be frank, cherries aren’t that easy to grow as a backyard fruit tree. As well as needing the correct cool climate, they need pruning when young, and regular feeding, spraying and other maintenance.
Varieties: there are sweet cherries and sour cherries. Sweet cherries (Prunus avium) are more common here in Australia than sour cherries (P. cerasus). The sweet cherry tree, if left unpruned, will reach around 10m tall, with a 5-6m spread. The sour cherry tree is smaller, about 4m tall, and bushier. However, most cherry trees in orchards are kept pruned to much smaller sizes.
Growing tips: cherries need a cold climate and well-drained soil. The best time to plant them is in winter, when they are bare-rooted. Like all fruit trees they like a feed in spring and autumn. Some sweet cherry varieties need pollen from another cherry variety to set fruit, but self-fertile varieties (such as ‘Stella’ and ‘Starkrimson’) are self-fertile. Sour cherries – ‘Morello’ is the most popular variety – are self-fertile, and so you need only one tree.
If you haven’t tried sour cherries, that’s probably because they’re not that common. So, if you do ever see some in a shop, don’t pass up on the chance. They have a very distinctive, complex flavour that can make wonderful desserts. Bottled and canned sour cherries are readily available, and they make excellent desserts, if well sweetened.
October to February is the season for sweet cherries here in Australia. Outside that time you can still find fresh cherries, but these are probably imported from places such as the USA. When shopping for cherries, go for shiny, plump ones, but do wash them then eat them as soon as you can, as they don’t keep all that well.
If you’ve ever chipped a tooth or lost a filling because of biting into a cherry pip, you’ll know that cherry pips can lead to big dental bills! What you need is a cherry pitter. This is a small kitchen utensil that holds a cherry in place then pokes a prong through the centre of the cherry and removes the pip. They’re available at all good cookware/kitchenware stores and aren’t expensive. Ours, made from stainless steel, cost $8, but there was another plastic one at our local kitchenware store for just $3.95. Pricier ones are available, of course. You could also look for an ‘olive pitter’ which works the same way on olive pips. An olive pitter is pretty good at removing cherry pips anyway, so if you already have one of these, you don’t need to buy a cherry pitter.
Tracy Rutherford’s Cherry Danish
See the Christmas issue of Burke’s Backyard magazine this month – it’s on sale now, with the cute Christmas Wreath on the cover – for Tracy Rutherford’s easy Cherry Danish recipe.
Tracy Rutherford’s Sour Cream Cherry Cheesecake
250g packet Granita biscuits
100g butter, melted
375g cream cheese, at room temperature
1/2 cup (110g) caster sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla essence
1/2 cup (125ml) sour cream
400g cherries, pitted and roughly chopped
icing sugar, to dust
1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Lightly grease a 22cm spring-form tin. Place the granita biscuits in a food processor and process until crushed. Add the butter and process in short bursts until the crumbs are evenly moistened. Tip into the prepared tin, and spread out with the back of a spoon to evenly cover the base, and up the side about 3cm. Put in the fridge to firm up.
2. Using electric beaters, beat the cream cheese, sugar and vanilla until well combined. Add the eggs and sour cream, beat until combined and smooth. Stir in the cherries.
3. Pour into the prepared base, and place on a baking tray. Bake for 45-50 minutes, until lightly browned and just set. Stand on a rack until cooled completely, then refrigerate for 4 hours, until firm. Dust with icing sugar just before serving.