British cherries are at their absolute best right now – Stephen Jardine

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Long summer days with the higher temperatures we have been experiencing are perfect for a good cherry harvest, writes Stephen Jardine.

My mum was a great cook and cherry pie was one of her most popular sweet treats. Her pastry was light yet rich and the perfect surrounding for the bright-red filling. We ended up eating a lot of cherry pie after one particular Sunday lunch.

My dad almost broke his dentures on a long sliver of plastic secreted within the cherries. A long letter of complaint was despatched to the manufacturer. The result was a fulsome apology and 48 cans of cherry pie filling. A few days later, it was back on the menu and only at that stage did my dad notice the long sliver missing from the plastic cake-slice used to dislodge the cherry pie from the baking tin. It was never spoken about again but it did leave me cautious when it came to cherries.

In fact, it was years before I realised cherries came from a tree with stalks as well as from a can, but I still remember that first proper taste.

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Cherries are the quintessential British fruit and right now they are at their absolute best. While strawberries and raspberries have become ubiquitous, there is something special about a bowl of cherries, glistening and ripe to eat.

There are so many downsides to global warming but the Scottish cherry harvest is one of the few benefits. Twenty years ago, the UK cherry industry was on the verge of collapse due to cheap imports from Spain and Turkey.

At the turn of the millennium, cherry production hit rock bottom with only 500 tonnes grown in the UK. Since then new production methods, including the emergence of smaller varieties that can be grown in polytunnels, have turned things around.

This year British growers are set to produce 6,500 tonnes of cherries, the highest total for half a century. And as the summer progresses, increasing quantities will come from Scotland.

The cherry season is notoriously short with production at a peak right now. In the last few years, production has increased in Scotland to plug the gap between the English harvest and crops from the southern hemisphere. The long summer days with higher temperatures now being experienced are perfect for a good cherry harvest.

They are not the cheapest fruit but then a little goes a long way. They are also remarkably versatile. From clafoutis to cobbler, from cheesecake to sorbet they are a sweet, vivid addition to any dessert. They also brighten any baking with cherry scones and bakewell tarts irresistible at any time. Then we have cherry jam and cherry juice, the list does go on and on.

But nothing beats them as they come. Part of the enjoyment is the ceremony. Picking the plumpest cherry from the bowl, lifting it to your mouth by the stalk and that first bite sending an explosion of sweet juice round your mouth before depositing the stone wherever is decent.

And then they are gone. The UK strawberry season now seems to start at Easter and end in October so there is something beguiling about a fruit we can grow here that is as bright and vivid as the sun and gone as soon it loses it’s heat. If you haven’t treated yourself to a great British cherry, it’s summer and today is the day.