Welcome to your Best Ever Guide to Cherry Picking in British Columbia!
From their lovely white flowers, to the delicious taste of the fruit itself, it’s no wonder that cherry picking is considered one of British Columbia’s favorite activities. Once they’re harvest-ready, these tiny sweet morsels provide an impressive explosion of flavour, not to mention an abundance of health benefits.
If you’re a fan of this fruit, you will likely agree that an orchard-to-table themed excursion is one of the most enjoyable ways to experience both the fruit and the great outdoors of British Columbia.
(This image actually shows the incorrect way to pick Cherries! Learn more why as you read on!)
Fortunately, farms abound where you have the opportunity to pick your own fruit. However, you may be thinking that there’s more to the process than simply collecting and eating baskets of cherries, and you are correct.
It’s not that you must have an in-depth education about all things cherry in order to enjoy them, but it is good to have a basic knowledge about picking, storing, and freezing this delicious orchard edible. It’s also helpful to know about the different varieties of cherries there are from which to choose, as well as facts about the cherry picking season in British Columbia.
Check out a video from one of the top Cherry producers in BC, Jealous Fruits:
The following is some information that will make your British Columbia cherry picking outing all the more pleasant and memorable:
Harvest Season for Cherries
June, July and August are by far the best months during which to enjoy a U-pick experience at one of British Columbia’s many orchards. Most varieties are picked in the months of June and July, but many can be harvested until the end of August. Some have a small window of time to be picked, while others can be harvested throughout the entire 90 day period.
The trees typically blossom in April and May, but the primary picking season begins in early June. As the summer goes on, cherries are harvested by location and variety, but the beginning of September usually ends the picking season for most cherries. Below is a helpful guide to the numerous types of cherries, and how the picking seasons vary for each kind.
According to the International Society for Horticultural Science, there are over a thousand types of cherries, and these are divided almost equally between sweet and tart cherry varieties.
Not surprisingly, tart cherries are typically used more frequently in baking and jam making, while sweeter varieties are eaten à la carte, blended into smoothies, and, of course, used to adorn ice cream sundaes.
Many of the cherry varieties we export were developed at the Summerland Research Station in British Columbia. Specifically starting with ‘S’, these include Skeena, Sweetheart, Satin, Staccato, Sovereign, and Sentenniel, all of which were specifically propagated to thrive in our Okanagan climate.
Below are the cherry varieties most frequently grown in British Columbia, and we don’t think you’ll find one in the bunch that you dislike.
These sweet, generous sized cherries are an all-time favourite among locals in British Columbia, and feature a light colour. When fully ripened, a slight red blush is noticeable. This variety is ideal for fresh eating since it has a distinct, sweet flavour and firm texture. This variety is usually ripe for picking in mid-July.
Van cherries feature a very dark colour and are somewhat smaller than other varieties. They are exceptionally sweet, so they’re perfect for canning or fresh eating. Van Cherries, however, are an old variety that is rarely grown in BC now.
We would be surprised if you never heard of Bing cherries, however, as with Van Cherries, they are an old variety that is rarely grown in the BC region today.
Santina cherries are somewhat new to British Columbia, considering the long history of cherries overall. They were initially introduced in Okanagan in the 1960s, and are very sweet. They are average-sized BC cherries, but feature an almost black colour. They are best for fresh eating, but can also be used in many dessert recipes. The window of time for picking this cherry is a bit shorter than others, however. Your best option is to pick this variety during the last two weeks of June.
Skeena cherries have a very strong, sweet flavour, and are perfect for eating fresh from the tree. They are also a favourite among those who like fruit smoothies, as they add a distinct sweet note to virtually any blend. Their black hue and large size give them a distinct appearance, and the best time to pick them is from the middle of July to the middle of August.
Don’t be fooled by the name because they are not heart shaped. Sweetheart cherries are are best used in baking, or for making jams and jellies. These cherries are bright red, and average in size. The best time to harvest them is usually mid-season.
Lapin cherries are incredibly popular, and are very sweet. They have a deep red to purple colour and are a bit smaller in size than most varieties, and also a bit firmer. They can typically be picked from July to the end of the season and are ideal for making sweet jam and cherry jelly.
Lambert cherries are round and large, and boast a deep ruby colour. They have been grown in British Columbia for centuries, and can be harvested throughout the entire season. They are not particularly tart, but we don’t think you would find them especially sweet either. This gives them the distinction of being suitable for fresh eating or baking, depending on your individual taste and preferences.
Cristalina cherries are heart-shaped, and similar to Bing cherries, they have a dark, reddish-black appearance and can be harvested throughout the entire season. However, they typically mature approximately 10 days before Bing cherries. They are very sweet, and a bit firmer than most cherry varieties. They feature a classic heart shape, and are known for a particularly long shelf life.
The Staccato cherry is best known around the world as one of the latest Canadian cherry varieties. They are very firm and sweet, and feature a dark red hue. They can be harvested of late July in South Okanagan and possibily into September in more notherly or higher elevation orhcards. Similar to Cristalina cherries, they have a long shelf life.
The Sentennial cherry is a firm variety, and is a favourite among those with a sweet tooth, due to its exceptionally strong flavour. This variety is quite crunchy, and features a dark burgundy colour. If you’re interested in this kind of cherry, plan to enjoy your fruit picking excursion later in the season, as mid-to-late August is the best time to harvest this variety.
The Sovereign cherry is another late bloomer, and should be picked in August. It is a heart-shaped variety, features a light red colour , and has a distinct green stem that is longer than other cherry varieties. A strong, sweet flavour makes it distinguishable from other types of cherries and it is ideal for fresh eating.
How to Pick Cherries
You may find it odd if someone were to ask you if you know how to pick cherries. You might find yourself wondering how hard it could be. In reality, however, there are certain facts you should know to have the best possible cherry picking experience:
Cherries Won’t Ripen at Home
Some fruits can be picked or purchased any time and allowed to ripen at home, but you will not be pleased with the results if you attempt this with cherries. This is perhaps the first important thing you must understand when planning your outing.
Because cherries should ideally be picked at their peak of ripeness because they don’t continue to ripen after they’ve been picked.
Always Pick Cherries With the Stem
The exception to this rule is if you plan to turn them into jams, jellies, or put them immediately into pies upon returning home. In that instance, harvesting them without the stem will save time and effort during the baking process. Otherwise, always pick them with the stem and be careful not to damage the spur where the stem is attached.
Texture and Colour Considerations
When picking your own cherries, choose those that are dense, plump and firm, with fully saturated colour and shiny skins. Be aware, however, that colour itself is not always a quality indicator, since different types of cherries feature different shades. Always refer to the above information about each cherry and what colour that variety should be. Of course, avoid wrinkled or bruised cherries as their shelf life will be greatly decreased.
Don’t Drop the Cherries
Although it may seem perfectly natural to pick the cherries and toss them into the bucket or pail, this is not a good idea. Dropping the cherry further than 20 cm into any picking container can cause serious damage to the fruit and significantly lessen its shelf life.
Protect Your Fruit From the Sun
If you are planning a lengthy fruit picking excursion, make sure you protect your cherries from low humidity and direct sunlight. Using white shade cloths to cover your container is an easy way to accomplish this. It’s also wise to stop picking before temperatures reach 27 degrees Celsius or higher, as this will avoid pitting, moisture loss, and stem browning.
How to Store Cherries
Upon returning home from your picking excursion, carefully move your BC cherries from your picking bag to a shallow bowl or a tray. Any bruised specimens should be discarded right away.
Lay them in a colander and rinse them with cold water only, and then pat them dry before cooking, freezing, pitting or eating.
Keep them dry and cold, and keep their stems on, since this will help them stay fresh. If you have picked a significant number of cherries, consider layering them between paper towels after you wash them, as this will help to protect them from moisture.
It’s important to understand, however, that even if you keep your cherries refrigerated and safe from humidity, all but a few varieties have a very short shelf life. Therefore, it’s best to use or freeze them within three to four days of their harvest.
Cherries kept at an ideal 1 degree temperature will survive a 21-day ocean voyage to China and arrive in good condition for the market. But it’s difficult to achieve a consistent and low enough temperature in a home refrigerator.
How to Freeze Cherries
We’ve always found that nothing is a finer year-round pleasure than having a bowl of juicy, cold cherries whenever you wish to indulge. Freezing them allows you to have them on hand this way whenever you like. In fact, you can even eat them frozen throughout the day for a guiltless treat. It’s important, though, to know how to freeze them properly, so here are some helpful tips:
Don’t Freeze Unpitted Cherries
Although this is not a hard and fast rule, it’s much better to pit cherries before you freeze them. If not, once they are thawed, it may be more difficult to remove the fruit from the pit. Of course, the stem should be removed as well.
Try This Three-Step Process
Cherries freeze well, but the way you plan to use them impacts the way you should go about freezing them. For example, if you are freezing them to eat whenever the urge occurs, use a simple, two-step process. First, rinse and dry the cherries carefully, pit them then freeze them on a baking sheet, uncovered, until firm.
Then, pack them into zip-top bags, making sure to squeeze out as much air as possible so that freezer burn is prevented. With this method, you don’t need superhuman strength to break them apart. They will separate easily.
And, don’t forget! Frozen cherries make fantastic cocktail ice cubes! 🍒
Thaw Cherries for Approximately Four Hours
Cherries can be thawed on your counter without any difficulty, and it will probably take approximately four hours for the thawing process to complete. Alternatively, you can place them in the refrigerator overnight, and within 7-8 hours they will be perfectly thawed. This time could vary a bit, however, depending on the coldness setting in your refrigerator, so keep that in mind.
Cherries For Baking
Cherries have distinct shapes, as you’ll notice when you pick them, but they become soft during the thawing process, and are unlikely to keep their shape. This will not affect their taste in any way, but be aware they won’t look “pretty” on an hors d’oeuvre tray if they have been frozen.
Also keep in mind that thawed cherries release liquid, so before you proceed with a recipe, this liquid should be discarded. Otherwise, you may have an unpleasant surprise when whatever you’re making turns out too thin.
Interesting Cherry Facts and Tips
Cherries are not only delicious, they are also a fascinating fruit. They originated in Asia minor, and their next stop was probably Europe, according to most agricultural historians. However, it was the Greeks who first mass-produced cherries, after which they eventually made their way around the world.
Cherries Belong to the Rose Family
Cherries are in the Rose family, which may be why their blossoms are so beautiful. The cherry tree reaches maturity after seven years, but in a mere three-four years after planting, cherries can be harvested.
However, it’s important to understand that cherries harvested this early in the life of the tree may not have the distinct flavour of cherries harvested from more mature trees. Additionally, cherries harvested from mature trees are not as susceptible to pitting injuries as their immature counterparts.
Cherries are Neatly Divided into Sweet or Tart
Very few cherry varieties are considered “middle-of-the-road,” when it comes to the sweet-tart spectrum. We think that’s a good thing, though, because usually people have one of two things in mind when cherry picking: baking or fresh consumption.
Tart cherries are better used in baking, since their flavour allows the chef to adjust the level of sweetness in whatever he or she is creating. Additionally, they hold their shape better than sweet cherries.
Pairing Flavours When Cooking and Baking
When used in baking, cherries pair well with dairy products like sweet cream and ricotta cheese, and herbs such as verbena, chives, and sage.
Obviously, for fresh eating, sweet cherries are the overwhelming favourite. We’ll share an interesting tip if you plan to munch on fresh cherries: dip them in ice water for a delicious bite that is cool and crisp.
This makes a terrific summertime treat, particularly during a heatwave. Low calorie and healthy, you’ll never need an excuse to eat this tasty fruit.
Surprising Health Benefits of Cherries
We know they are delicious, but what else can cherries do for you? Fortunately, the answer to that is found in the many health benefits outlined below:
Cherries Can Help Fight Inflammation
For an inflammation-fighting, plant-based food, nothing tops a full cup of sweet cherries. Tart cherries also have this benefit, but the anti-inflammatory properties of sweet cherries are stronger.
Known to lower inflammatory biomarkers, cherries can help to prevent cancer, arthritis, diabetes, and other chronic inflammatory diseases. In addition, virtually all cherry varieties contain polyphenols, which may slow down the inflammatory process, regardless of its source, and protect against damage.
Cherries and Heart Health
Certain types of heart disease are the result of arterial plaque, which often occurs due to blood vessel inflammation. Because of their anti-inflammatory properties, cherries may help to prevent the coagulation of plaque, and subsequently, heart disease. High blood pressure, considered a cardiac disorder, is often held at bay by potassium, and cherries are full of this nutrient.
Cherries May Help Insomnia
If you’re searching for a natural sleep aid, tart cherries may be all you need. Tart cherry juice affects melatonin, serotonin, and tryptophan levels in a healthy way. These are the hormones responsible for maintaining normal sleep cycles.
Cherries are a Cholesterol-Lowering Fruit
There are several foods that significantly lower cholesterol, and cherries are one of them. This is likely due to a substance found in many deeply coloured fruits, called ‘anthocyanins.’ Anthocyanins are potent antioxidants known to lower LDL–bad cholesterol–and raise HDL–good cholesterol.
Cherries May Prevent Cancer
Cherries are exceptionally high in antioxidants, and the latter are known to help prevent cancer, destroy free radicals, and inhibit the dividing cells.
Cherries and Weight Loss
Cherries may also assist you to reach your weight-loss goals or maintain an already healthy weight. This is because vegetables and fruits that are high in fibre, such as cherries, help with satiety. They are also regarded as low-glycemic foods, meaning they can have a positive impact on blood sugar, helping to prevent the glucose fluctuations that often lead to cravings.
Eating Cherries to Improve Skin Health
Cherries may be able to improve skin health. Vitamin C has long been identified as a vitamin needed by the body to produce the collagen of which your skin is made. A single serving of cherries provides over 10% of your daily vitamin C needs in one dose.
Better Brain Health with Cherries
Research also suggests that eating cherries on a regular basis can improve brain health. For this benefit, stick with tart cherries, though. The polyphenols and antioxidants that tart cherries contain work together to protect brain cells. This, in turn, can improve cognition and memory in adults.
Where to Pick Cherries in British Columbia
By now, your burning question is, ‘where can I pick cherries in British Columbia?’ We recommend the following twelve farms where the best cherries await:
Cherry Picking Kelowna, BC
Visit Arndt Orchards if you desire a broad range of cherry varieties from which to choose for your excursion. This farm offers an impressive seven varieties of this tasty fruit.
The Kempf family’s orchard dates back to 1966 and it’s a great family-friendly location for some of BC’s best cherry picking.
Gambell Farms is a staunch supporter of sustainable living, and this establishment is a great place to pick a variety of sweet cherries. You can also buy fruit pies, scones and preserves at this farm.
Kuipers Family Fruit Farm offers terrific options for cherry picking, with varieties such as Cristalina, Bing, Rainier, Van, Lapin, and Sweethearts.
Cherry Picking West Kelowna, BC
This West Kelowna cherry farm offers the best in Van, Lambert and Bing, and Lapin cherries. Always call ahead, though, because hours of operation may be altered if excessive heat is underway.
Dedicated to healthy living–and plump juicy cherries–this farm is a fantastic choice for U-Pick excursions, and for buying fresh juice.
Cherry Picking Summerland, BC
You will have a true orchard experience at Dixon Family Farms, where you have your choice of six great cherry varieties.
This friendly, rustic fruit farm is a great choice for a casual, fun filled morning or afternoon picking cherries. This farm is also pet friendly!
Cherry Picking Vernon, BC
Bright Angel Farm is home to four beautiful acres of cherry trees, and they offer Sweethearts, Lamberts and Lapins.
Peter’s U-Pick Orchard specialises in early varieties of sweet cherries, and also boasts an expansive fruit stand that is always open throughout the picking season.
Cherry Picking Oliver, BC
The Krazy Cherry Fruit Company is a generous size farm, and boasts an amazing 15 varieties of cherries, making it a perfect destination for any budget or lifestyle.
Hillside Orchards offer a delicious ripe cherry picking experience, and is a great place for family fun. Additionally, the owners are dedicated to organic living and sustainable processes.