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Fruit for Thought
A harvest of facts about the smallest plum
By Christina Waters
Sweet cherries originated near the Black Sea in what is now southeastern Europe, and quickly spread across the continent.
The wild sweet cherry, prunus avium, was the ancestor of two groups of cherry, the firm variety with colorless juice, from which the Napoleon and Royal Anne are descended, and the soft fleshy variety with dark juices, from which the Bing derives.
Cherries were very big in the Middle Ages, especially in Germany, England and France, where they were pruned into dwarf and espalier creations.
Cherries are extremely high in potassium and are considered an excellent high-fiber diuretic. There are 60 calories in a third of a cup of cherries.
Fermented black cherries form the liquid center of kirsch, the traditional high-proof Bavarian firewater.
The first recognized cherry varieties were planted in California, near Napa, in 1850. By 1860 over 70 varieties of sweet cherry were available at nurseries near San Jose.
The United States, still the leading cherry producer in the world, grows its largest crops in Washington, California, Oregon and Michigan. California cherry acreage was estimated to be around 16,000 acres in 1992. Of that, 1,100 harvested acres exist in Santa Clara County. That number is rising, thanks largely to the booming Japanese market, which now consumes well over half the world's cherry crop.
Cherries grow best where winters are moderately cool and summers are warm and dry.
Experts believe that the Berryessa district will be the last cherry acreage in the north part of the county, the remaining orchards lost to urbanization.
The Lodi/Stockton area of California produces half of all cherries in the state.
The leading cherry varieties in the state are Bing, Royal Ann and Black Tartarian.
When the first California cherries from Alameda were sent back East by railroad, in 1885, they took a week and a half to reach market, and sold for $1 a pound.
Special thanks to Bill Coates, UC Cooperative Extension in Hollister.
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From the October 10-16, 1996 issue of Metro
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