A recent email from a reader reads as follows: “My friend and I have been in a friendly dispute about cherries. Since I've>"/>
A recent email from a reader reads as follows: “My friend and I have been in a friendly dispute about cherries. Since I've lived in Washington state all my life and she hasn't, I was telling her that the cherry season used to be very short. I remember it being in late spring and only lasing a few weeks. She says since her move to Seattle that she has always bought them from June-August. The growing season must have gotten a lot longer because I'm still buying them in July myself but the question is, as I mentioned didn't the season used to be very short? Could you let me now the answer to this question.”
This made us wonder: Has cherry season gotten longer in Seattle? Immediately, I thought: it must be global warming. But the answer, after talking to a few local cherry farmers, is not so simple.
“At market, the season for cherries is mid-May to August, with each farmer having a different season,” explains Mary Kay Razy, of Razy Organic Orchards in Natches, located in the Yakima Valley. “Our season (picking) is July though August, six weeks or so, which is a pretty short season. We pick for four weeks, but with the varieties they have now, the fruit keeps longer.”
“We grow 12 different varieties of cherry, which all ripen at different times in the season” says Kurt Tonnemaker of Tonnemaker Farms in Royal City, Washington (about two and a half hours southeast of Seattle, past Ellensburg). “Newer varieties like the Chelan and Sonata are firm, ripen early, have a long a shelf life, and expand when it rains, instead of splitting. Other farms use special bags to store their fruit better, though we don’t use those.” It seems the growing season isn’t longer for individual varieties of cherry, but the buying season for cherries (all varieties) is longer. Various features from new breeds to high-tech storage techniques, combine, as Tonnemaker puts it, to “extend the season so it’s more affordable for grocery stores to merchandise the cherries. It used to be two weeks and they’d be gone.”
So reader, you and your friend are both right. The availability of cherries at markets has extended, though it doesn’t appear that one type (say Bing or Rainier) is ripening longer or later, only that there are more and hardier varieties of cherry to lengthen the shopping season.