Cherries: the first, and the best

The cherries are better as the season goes on.

The cherries are better as the season goes on.

It’s simple economics: When a person hasn’t laid eyes on the glossy, polished surface of a cherry in nine months, he or she may pay whatever it takes to go home with a sack full of fruit, even if it’s just the Burlat cherry. Tom and Missy Gotelli sell this early-ripening variety at the Davis Farmers Market only when they have to, and, as Missy Gotelli says, the Burlat is the “better than nothing cherry.” Tom Gotelli also reserves lukewarm feelings for the Burlat, which he says serves most usefully as a pollinator variety.

“Well, it’s red,” observed the Stockton-based farmer, who grows cherries as far south as Bakersfield and as far north as Yakima, Washington.

The kickoff days of the cherry season are now behind us, and the Burlats are not likely to make their humble presence again in local markets as preferred varieties ripen into abundance. Among these are Bing, Tulare, Larian, coral and index. Shoppers can also expect heaps of yellowish-gold Rainier, virtually unknown 20 years ago but now among the fastest-selling varieties, and the Brook, a firm, crunchy, sweet cherry and, by many opinions, the very best.

Cherries’ ripening schedules depend strongly on latitude; the Gotellis’ Bakersfield trees produce their first fruits in late April and early May, while their Washington trees emerge more slowly from the effects of the long winter, and even as the Yakima Valley’s 18-hour days begin waning after the June equinox, the fruits are still almost a month from ripeness. By late-July, the crop is in full swing, and these northern cherries persist as late as August.

Locally, cherry season is as ephemeral as the longest days of summer; by early July this little gem of a stone fruit begins to peter out of the market—but by then, the sight of a basketful of cherries will be old news, and only nine months without will stoke our appetites for the next season.