Remy the Leonberger is trying to hypnotise me. She follows the trajectory of each cherry from bowl to mouth. If she’s very lucky, I will destone one and give her half because move over strawberries: cherries are the fruit of choice in this household.
I caught a clip on Countryfile last night of the Kent County Show, where cherry growers from around the world were competing for top prize. The tussle to be named cherry supremo was fierce but gentlemanly and apparently even Her Madge looks on with interest. The show organisers courier punnets of the finest to Buckingham Palace once the judging is over.
This year, the UK is even experiencing a bumper harvest – in stark contrast to the situation some fifteen years ago, when we produced a mere 400 tonnes. The industry had been decimated, with traditional Kent orchards being phased out, unable to compete with imported varieties from Turkey, Spain and the US. In 2014, however, we produced some 3,500 tonnes, according to Government figures, worth around £20m, and the prospects for this year are even better.
The reason for such growth is that farmers have eschewed the tall cherry tree varieties for smaller shrub versions, albeit grown in rather unsightly polytunnels…but I don’t care, the taste is the thing.
Pliny the Elder was a fan. It appears that early versions of today’s cherries came from the Caucasus Mountains, and were transported to ancient Rome in 74BC by Lucius Lucullus. Pliny predicted, however, that within 120 years cherry trees would “spread as far as Britain.”
He may have got his timings slightly off, as there is evidence that the fruit had been domesticated in Europe and Asia Minor centuries before, but I can empathise with him over taste. He describes three varieties of tame sweet cherries, including the Junian cherry that “has a pleasant taste, but only if eaten under its tree, since it is so tender that it cannot stand being transported.”
In West London, we are having an even better time of it than usual because it appears there is such a glut of cherries that the birds have eaten their fill elsewhere and are leaving our fruit alone. All the more for Remy and me, if I can beat her to the bowl first. One member of the band I’m in has so many that he turns up at weekly rehearsals with individual punnets.
I must own up, however, to being a bad dog owner. It’s taken this article for me to check whether I should be feeding her cherries, even though I had the same tussle with our previous dog as to who would get to the fruit first. The good news is that, as long as you take the pip out of the fruit, the dogs will be fine. The stones apparently contain a naturally occurring poison: cyanide. I’ll bear that in mind for future reference.
Three things you might not have known about cherries, courtesy of Daniel Boffey in The Guardian:
■ The Forme of Cury, a cookery book written around 1390, contains two cherry-based recipes. The recipe for ‘chireseye’, a blend of crushed cherries, wine, butter, breadcrumbs and sugar, opens with advice on seasonality: ‘Tak chiryes at the Fest of Seynt John the Baptist [24 June] and do away the stonys.’
■ In TV’s Twin Peaks, character Audrey Horne knots a cherry stem with her tongue to try to get a job in a brothel. Writer Harley Peyton had seen a friend perform the trick at dinner. Actress Sherilyn Fenn admitted she had not been able to perform the trick.
■ The earliest (16th-century) analogies between cherries and sexual ripeness play on the apparent similarity of the black cherry and female pubic hair, and on stones, meaning testicles.