Cherry Aid (16 July)

a bowl of cherries
At my local supermarket today I saw a special offer on cherries. Excellent, I thought. Cherries are in season and these are half price . . . unfortunately, despite the fact that English cherries are in season, (it is July), these supermarket cherries were from Greece. And while I have absolutely nothing against Greece, (and frankly they probably need all the help they can get in this austere times) I find it absurd that supermarkets are importing cherries from abroad and that this particular supermarket had no English cherries on offer.

It comes as no surprise that there is a problem with supply and demand in regards to English cherries, that the English cherry orchards are in a parlous state; we have lost 90% of our traditional orchards over the past 50 years and the UK now imports 95% of cherries into the country.

The cherry originates in West Asia, probably Persia and were brought to Britain by the Romans, yet another one of their fabulous culinary introductions. There is a lovely story that you could follow the traces of old Roman Roads by the wild cherry trees that had grown up from discarded cherry stones, that the legionary soldiers had spat out as they marched along the roads. (Actually there is also a theory that wild garlic grew up along the roads too, but that is another story).

The Romans developed fruit orchards, particularly in Kent. Pliny the Elder, the Roman 1st century AD author and naturalist, observed that many of the fruit and vegetables that the Romans brought to Britain actually adapted to our climate better than in other parts of the Empire and cherries were no exception But the Roman's carefully tended orchards became wild and overgrown after the Romans left Britain. Their management was resurrected during Medieval times; monasteries were great centres of gardening expertise. Henry VIII was a great champion of the cherry and encouraged Kent farmers to develop orchards, the reason why Kent became the Cherry County of England for many centuries.

During the Middle Ages, cherry fairs were a festive occasion during the cherry season, which may be why they have been associated with poetry and art for centuries, well that and their glorious colour. Over the centuries, cherries have been associated in art and literature with both fertility and innocence (a dangerous combination I suspect!); a sweet and good character is denoted by cherries in Medieval paintings.

We should enjoy our trees with their beautiful blossom and the fruits themselves in everything from traditional British batter puddings to ice creams and drinks. I love cherries in salads, such as my Cherry and Spring Onion Salsa, but cherries work very well with meat dishes and have an affinity for chocolate - a marriage made in cherry heaven.

Support the Cherry Aid campaign at FoodLovers Britain or on Facebook. As part of the campaign, you can plant, rent or even adopt a cherry tree to show how much you love them.

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