Sweet cherries are the larger, plump and deep red varieties generally sold fresh in grocery stores and through farmers markets in the summer. Two-thirds of sweet cherry production is sold for fresh consumption, while the remaining third is processed.
Sour cherries make up the majority of the processed cherries we consume, from pie fillings to dried cherries, cherry preserves and cherry juice. Compared to sweet cherries, they are smaller and brighter in colour and hold their shape and texture better in cooking. Their namesake tartness mellows into a deep, sweet flavour making them a delicious choice for processed cherry products.
How to Buy:
Look for deep purple/red colour with a shiny, supple exterior. Avoid dull, wrinkled, soft, mouldy or wet fruit. Discard crushed or pitted cherries so their juice doesn’t spoil the surrounding fruit.
How to Store:
Sweet Cherries are a seasonal fruit and should be refrigerated as soon as possible to preserve freshness. Chilling also seems to improve the flavour. Wash your cherries before eating in cool water and drain on a single layer of paper towel. Consume within a week of purchase.
Pit and remove the stems from the sweet cherries. Freeze on a cookie sheet in a single layer for four hours then transfer to a freezer bag or sealed container. OR pit and pack sour cherries in 1 cup (250 mL) sugar for 4 cups (1 L) of fruit, or cover in heavy syrup and pack in an air-tight container.
How to Prepare:
Fresh sweet cherries have a mild sweet flavour and are a healthy, nutritious snack when eaten whole but can also be made into jams, jellies or brandied. Sour cherries are more suitable for cooked preparations and lend themselves well to pies, jams, preserves and fruit compotes to top pancakes and ice cream.
Sweet Cherries – no sugar added
Sour Cherries – no sugar added
How Cherries are Grown:
British Columbia’s Okanagan Valley, Similkameen Valley, and Creston Valley regions and southern Ontario are responsible for the majority of Canada’s sweet cherry production.
Sweet cherry harvest begins in BC in early June in the South Okanagan region and finishes the beginning of September in the North Okanagan and Creston Valley regions. Each year the season can vary a little based on the weather.
The cherries are handpicked and transported to a packing facility where they are washed and sorted to discard any damaged or unripened fruit. Then they are packed in bags, clamshells or boxes for distribution.
Ontario produces 85% of Canada’s sour cherry crop, followed by BC and Saskatchewan. Sour cherries are harvested by a large machine that wraps around the trunk of the tree and shakes the cherries loose onto a platform. A conveyor then moves the cherries into large bins before being moved to the processing facility.
Once at the processing facility, the bins are filled with ice water to keep the cherries cool and let leaves, branches and bits of floating debris be skimmed off. They are then moved by conveyor through a colour sorting machine that removes unripe or damaged cherries which are sent to be made into juice. The good cherries are then pitted by a special machine and packaged to be sent for further processing, usually into pie fillings or preserves. The whole process is continually monitored by staff who remove undesirable cherries and take samples to ensure quality.
Cherry production on the prairies continues to rise, thanks to new varieties being developed by the University of Saskatchewan that are prairie hardy and machine harvestable.
More than half of Canada’s sweet cherry production is exported to 15 countries around the world.
Canadian Crop is Available: June and July.
Sweet Cherries Grown in: British Columbia, Ontario
Sour Cherries Grown in: Ontario, British Columbia and Saskatchewan