The Great British Cherry Revival

Cherries picked and ready to go to the supermarket 3

This week we welcome a brand new guest blogger to Real Food - Tesco Food Writer, Mike Baess. On a recent trip to a cherry farm in Kent, Mike revealed that this charming little British fruit could be set to enjoy a revival

When it comes to cherries, the English grown variety are hard to beat. I’d even go as far as saying that like our strawberries, apples and pears, British cherries are simply world class and easily stand up next to any from the Mediterranean or America.
That is why the news that our once ailing cherry industry is back in good health again after a long decline in the late 20th century is so heart-warming for fruit lovers.
Incredibly, the British cherry industry was on its last legs at the turn of the Millennium and at that time we as a nation produced just 400 tonnes a year - a paltry amount compared to what we were producing during the industry’s heighday in the post-years.

To give some comparison, this year, thanks to newer, more manageable tree varieties and new growing techniques British growers will produce around 2000 tonnes during this year’s eight-week UK season which lasts until the end of August.
And because of their great reputation the British grown cherries are expected to be snapped up as soon as they go on sale.
Growers have calculated that if all goes according to plan, they will be able to completely satisfy the UK’s annual cherry demand of 9000 tonnes by the end of the decade.
Tom Hulme is a cherry farmer based near Canterbury, Kent, who was tempted into the business after the arrival of easier to manage trees.

Tom Hulme and a perfect British cherry1
Tom Hulme and a perfect British red cherry

Tom told me that in the past he was growing his cherries on big 40ft trees which made it very difficult to protect the fruit on them from the weather and the birds. It required picking them with 40ft ladders which was both expensive, labour wise, and also not so good from a health and safety perspective.
This meant that cherries from Tom's Hoaden Court Farm became uncompetitive against the South European and North American cherries which were better quality and cheaper. As a result the British cherry industry was dying.

Tom on his vintage red tractor1Tom on his vintage red tractor

What’s changed is that now Tom grows his cherries on smaller trees. He puts bird netting over them and plastic to keep the rain off meaning that he produces a really high quality product which people want to buy.

Cherries picked and ready to go to supermarket 1
Cherries picked and ready to go to the supermarket

The great news for shoppers is that this year, weather permitting, UK growers aim to have twice as many British cherries to sell compared with last year and also more of the most popular varieties such as Penny, Regina and Kordia which are sweeter than imported ones.

But the best news is that by the end of the decade UK growers should be able to completely meet demand for home-grown cherries for the whole British season. That’s an amazing turnaround from just 10 years ago.

What's your favourite way to eat cherries? We love them in crumbles and pies, with a dash of cream of course! Explore our collection of Cherry recipes

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