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It is the cherry on the cake of a remarkable comeback.
A decade after cherry orchards were almost wiped out in Britain, farmers are celebrating such a bumper crop this year that they are able to export the fruit around the world.
‘If you’d told me ten years ago we’d been shipping cherries to those kinds of places, I would have laughed,’ says Matt Hancock, chairman of trade body Love Fresh Cherries. ‘It’s great news for Brand Britain.’
Stone me! Mail on Sunday reporter Giulia Crouch inspects this summer’s juicy cherry crop at the Bardsley England orchards in Kent
This year’s crop represents a six-fold increase on 2010’s figures, when 95 per cent of cherries in British supermarkets were flown in from overseas. Fearing that traditional home-grown crops were being lost to bland imports and tasteless modern varieties, growers launched a campaign to revitalise their industry called, inevitably, CherryAid.
Now those efforts have, well, borne fruit – aided by perfect weather conditions this year.
Paul Smith, of Kent-based orchards Bardsley England, says a combination of a good winter chill – which puts the trees to sleep in the cold months – and a warm spring has produced a good yield of juicy, flavoursome cherries.
‘The warm temperatures are great for bloom and if you get good pollination you get good fruit,’ he says. ‘Plus the amazing weather during lockdown has accelerated development and brought them forward a week. The quality this year is exceptional.’
But cherries aren’t around for long in the UK, with a season of only six weeks, starting about now. Paul says the best time to eat them is when they are between a deep burgundy and a near-black, rather than a ‘cherry-red’ colour.
He adds: ‘They’re exciting because they’re a flash in the pan. They’re properly seasonal and I think that’s increasingly important to people. Customers don’t want cherries at Christmas imported from South Africa. British cherries are a true marker of summer and I think that’s part of why they’ve become more and more popular.
‘It’s also nice that the British people get behind British produce.’
Paul is delighted that the quintessential English fruit is exported to Hong Kong.
‘It’s particularly popular there for some reason,’ he says. ‘They’re cherry mad.’
Britain used to be covered in cherry orchards but during the Second World War the land was turned over to other, more vital crops.
Britain joining the EU also made it easier to import cherries from countries such Spain. But experts say imports often lack the depth of flavour of home-grown fruit. And there has been a cherry shortage across much of the rest of Europe this year.
Cherries also have diet benefits. Nutritionist Rob Hobson said: ‘Cherries are unlike the vast majority of fruits in that they contain melatonin, a hormone that helps control your sleep-wake cycle.
‘They’re also packed full of antioxidants called polyphenols which can help reduce muscle pain and reduce inflammation.
‘One cup of cherries also contains almost 20 per cent of your recommended daily amount of Vitamin C. Plus they’re low in calories.’
There are more than 1,000 varieties of cherry worldwide, with Merchant, Sunburst, Stella, Regina, Sweetheart and Penny among those found in the UK.