They inspire haiku in Japan; in the Okanagan, they promise sugary sweet flesh. In Edmonton, the delicate pink and white blossoms of cherry trees denote a different poetry: Freezers and pantries full of tasty, tart cherry dishes or even grog.
Several varieties of sour cherries grow in the Edmonton area: Evans, Nanking, Galaxy, Montmorency and, of course, choke cherries.
“Sour cherries are an acquired taste – get the B.C. cherries out of your head. They have a whole different taste. Not a lot of people like grazing sour cherries, but I love it,” says Rob Sproule, co-owner of Salisbury Greenhouses and proud pruner of his own handful of backyard cherry trees.
The most successful sour cherry in these parts is the Evans cherry, named after generous Alberta Agriculture technocrat Ieuan Evans, who saved some Mongolian/European hybrid suckers from a Fort Saskatchewan orchard slated for demolition in the late 1970s. Since then, the University of Saskatchewan has also produced a number of prairie cherry varietals, like Romeo, Juliet and Cupid.
“We sell a whack of cherry trees, mostly the Evans variety,” says Sproule. “Besides their outstanding and often downright baffling cold hardiness, sour cherry trees are easier to grow than sweet trees. They tolerate wet soils better, they self-pollinate and have built-in immunity against pests and diseases that plague B.C. growers.”
Pick, Pucker & Pie
Early on, sour cherries are orange-red and command a formidable pucker. The plump stone fruits then turn red, and finally burgundy – the best colour for plucking. Wait too long, cautions Sproule, and risk your harvest being bruised by hail. Sproule loves making pies or cherry-infused vodka with his harvests.
There are a few sour cherry u-pick farms near Edmonton, including Joe and Audrey’s Berry Farm or Happy Acres U-Pick in Spruce Grove. Rainbow Acres at Old Strathcona Farmers’ Market sells frozen local cherries year-round.