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.
🚜 Harvested from South to North
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 elevation 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.
⛰️ Peak of the Season
When does cherry season peak? That would be in summer - early summer to be exact.
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.
RELATED - Read about When Rainier Cherries are in Season
Here is handy, downloadable, and shareable graphic on the progress of cherry season.
🌸 In Season In Other States
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.
Sour 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.
Here is a list by states when cherries are approximately in season
|Southern Michigan||mid June - late July|
|Northern Michigan (Traverse)||early July - late August|
|Oregon||early June - late August|
|California||early May - mid June|
|Washington||early June - late August|
|Ohio||mid June - late July|
|Idaho||mid June - late July|
|Virginia||late May - mid July|
|New York||mid June - late July|
|Pennsylvania||mid June - late July|
|Maryland||mid June - late July|
|Maine||mid July - mid August|
|New Jersey||mid June - mid July|
|Iowa||late June - mid July|
|Indiana||mid June - late July|
|Illinois||mid June - late July|
|Wisconsin||mid July to mid August|
🤝 Cherry + Plum
Something I have discovered in recent years is that cherries and plums are compatible, so much they have crossed the two fruits, creating a cherry-plum hybrid. This fruit is a small plum with a smaller pit than a normal plum. It tastes more like a plum. They are really good.
Each year I see more and more of them in grocery stores, so they are becoming easier to find.
Do you need a cherry pitter to enjoy cherries? Not necessarily. Part of the fun is spitting the pits right.
However if you are going to cook with cherries or freeze a lot of cherries, that is when I think it would make your life easier to get one. I have created a handy guide to help select the best cherry pitter.
- If you are going to buy a cherry pitter, I recommend getting one than will pit more than one cherry at a time with the ability to pit olives as well. I recommend trying the Geson Cherry Pitter, which is under $15.
Tart cherries can be hard to find fresh. I am lucky because my home state of Michigan is the number 1 tart cherry grower in the United States. Tart cherry season runs from early July to early August. You can get dried cherries year round.
- You can buy a big box of dried cherries that are from Michigan. They are great for salads and putting in baked goods.
- Without a doubt my favorite dried cherries are Cherry Jubliee mix from Cherry Bay Orchards. It is a mix of Montmorency cherries, Balaton cherries, and Light Sweet cherries. This is what I buy when I am missing fresh cherries. I love experiencing the different flavors of cherries in a single bag.
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