There are some fruits that never disappear from store shelves. Year round you can find apples, oranges, peaches, bananas, etc. However that cannot be said for cherries. Cherries are only available for a limited time during the year. So if you want to enjoy some, it’s important to know when they are in season. To give you a better understanding of how the season unfolds, I will talk about how one company, Stemilt, extends the season. Stemilt is located in Washington, but they work with farms all the way down to southern California.
The harvest begins in southern California, in Bakersfield. This usually begins around the end of April. The earliest cherry variety is the Brooks cherry, which is a cross between a Rainier and a Bing. From there, the harvest moves north to the Stockton/Modesto area. By early June, the harvest comes to an end in California. At this time, the cherries in Washington will be ready. They start in the Pasco/Mattawa area and move north to Chelan, Okanagan, and Wenatchee. They are also able to harvest cherries in higher eleavtion all the way into late August (read more about high elevation cherries in my post Are Cherries Out of Season?.)
They harvest cherries as high as 3,500 feet. So by moving from south to north, Stemilt is able to harvest cherries from late April to late August.
Now, the difficult thing with cherries is that they are very perishable. This is why by September, cherries will have pretty much disappeared from stores until the next year.
The next question is: how long from harvest until the cherries hit the supermarkets? Since they are perishable, Stemilt aims to get their cherries from the farm to the truck within a day or two. And then it takes anywhere from 1-2 days for close by locations to up to 5-7 days for the cherries to make it the east coast. They use a cold chain process to keep the cherries as fresh as possible.
Even though the harvest last for 4 months, there are peaks in the season. The California cherries peak at the end of May/beginning of June. Prices tend to be higher for the California cherries (learn more from my post – When Will The Prices of Cherries Get Cheaper?) The Washington cherries peak in early July.
There are several different varieties of cherries that Stemilt grows. They can be broken into dark/sweet cherries and Rainer cherries. There are several varieties of dark cherries but it’s up to the grocery whether they advertise the different varieties. Most stores I have encountered just sell them as sweet cherries with the expection of the Bing cherries. The differences between these cherries are subtle. The variations are usually in color, firmness, the sugar to acid ratio.
While the Pacific states are the nation’s biggest cherries growers, other areas of the country also grow cherries. In fact, pretty much all the sour or pie cherries grown in the US commercially are grown in Michigan. These cherries are typically ready around the fourth of July and the harvest can last until the end of the month. Traverse City, Michigan is host to an annual National Cherry Festival.
2014 Cherry Crop Update
A rough start to the season. The California crop was one of the smallest on record. Warm winter temperatures prevented the trees form getting enough chill hours in which the tree goes dormant. The crop pretty much ended in the beginning of June. Good news, the Washington crop looks good and Michigan got out of May without any freezes, so things are looking up for 2014.