The Complete Guide to Cherry Picking
July 6, 2021
There is something so wonderful about taking a bite of a delicious fruit bake or treat and knowing exactly where your produce came from. When you pick your own, you always are sure that it’s fresh off the plant! This summer, why not try cherry picking? In this complete guide, you’ll discover everything you need to get started.
This post contains affiliate links, which means I will earn a commission if you click through and buy something, at no additional cost to you! Learn More.
I love cherry picking. The tall trees provide a nice shade, and the fruit is easy to harvest. It’s great activity for a cool summer morning, alone or along with friends, a significant other, or family. Plus, you get some delicious fruit out of it! Here is everything you need to know before you go picking this season.
What’s In Season?
Cherries don’t grow everywhere, but they are able to grow in a lot of places. You can generally find them in plant hardiness zones four through seven. These zones are based on the average minimum extreme temperature in an area, and give a good indication as to what can or can’t grow there.
The zones for cherries cover a good portion of the United States, especially the northeast, northwest, and midwest regions. Check out this map from USDA to see if you live in the right zone. If you are outside the US, simply search for “plant hardiness” and your own country.
Once you have determined that cherries can grow near you, you’ll need to know when. Usually, you can find cherries in the early summer. Depending on your exact location, the season can last from May until August. Here in Upstate New York, it’s cherry season right now, in July.
Find a Local Cherry Farm
If you are looking to pick your own cherries, then you will definitely need to find a local you-pick (also called u-pick or pick-your-own) farm. These farms generally allow customers to fill baskets with fruit they pick themselves from the farm’s trees. Then you pay by either weight or volume for what you’ve picked.
You can find local farms at Pickyourown.org, which includes plenty of information about the locations and seasons.
Where I live, we also have a couple cherry trees in our own backyard! That means that we can get a small harvest for free. You can plant your own cherry trees if you live in the appropriate zone, and get a bunch of cherries annually.
Have a Plan Before You Pick
Cherry picking is so easy, that you can have a full basket before you know it. Then you get home and have no clue what to do with all those cherries! It’s always a good idea to plan ahead so you know when to stop picking. Think of how many cherries you will need for baking, snacking, jam-making, and canning.
If you are not sure where to start, here are a few delicious recipes that feature fresh cherries:
Types of Cherries
There are two main different kinds of cherries: sweet and sour. Sour cherries are less common, and come in fewer varieties. These are the type of cherries that are often used to make pies. They are a bit more fragile and more acidic than their sweet counterparts.
Sweet cherries have plenty of different varieties. Some of the most common are bing, lambert, and rainier.
- Bing cherries are a common type of black cherry, which have a sweet, dark flesh and a distinct heart shape. These are delicious for snacking, and great for using in black cherry ice cream.
- Lamberts are large and bright red. These have a lot of availability, and are great for both snacking and baking with.
- Rainier cherries are a beautiful mottled pink and yellow color with a yellow flesh. They can be more difficult to find, but when you do, they have a lovely sweet-tart balance.
How to Pick Cherries
Cherries are one of the easiest fruits to pick for a couple reasons. First, they tend to grow in clusters or bunches, so it’s simple to grab many fruits at the same time. Also, cherry trees tend to ripen all at once, so when a tree is ready for harvest, all of its cherries are good to go.
Some cherry trees can get very tall, where other varieties stay within a reachable range. Check if your local farm allows ladders or step-ladders, or if you’ll even need them. Near me, we have a few cherry farms, and only one allows bringing ladders, and using them at your own risk.
Picking the Perfect Cherry
Cherries have a pit, so select large cherries from the tree, which generally contain a bit more fruit flesh. If allowed by the farm, try a fresh cherry off the tree. If it’s delicious, you can pick a whole bunch from that tree.
Don’t tug on the tree branches or leaves. Grab the cherry from the top of the stem, where it meets the branch. In many cases, two or more cherries will meet at the same point. Pinch and pull gently, and the cherry stem should easily come off the branch. Leave the stems on the fruits until you are ready to use them.
Most cherry farms will have baskets available. However, these may be single-use. if you would like to bring your own, to assure you are being extra sustainable, don’t forget to carry along a harvest basket.
Try cherry picking this summer! This guide has all the info and free printables you need for the best cherry experience.
Storing Fresh Cherries
Whole cherries can be stored unwashed in a vented plastic container or bag in the fridge for five to seven days. Fresh picked cherries tend to last a bit longer than those that you find at the store that have already spent a few days shipping. Label your cherry bags so you don’t forget what varieties you have available.
If you won’t use all your cherries immediately, you can freeze or can them for later. When canning, be sure to follow the guidance from the USDA. It can be dangerous to preserve food improperly, so you should always follow a fully tested recipe if you’d like to can syrup, jam, or pie filling.
To freeze cherries, wash, stem, and pit them. Then you can spread the cherries on a parchment-lined baking sheet and freeze them. Once frozen, place them all in a bag and seal for up to 6 months. Spreading them on the baking sheet prevents them from sticking together.
Working With Cherries
If you are snacking on your sweet cherries, you can simply remove the stem, wash and eat them. Be careful of the pit, which you should spit out. You can also remove the pits before snacking.
If you are baking with cherries, I suggest investing in a cherry pitter. This is a fast way to remove the pits. However, they are not infallible. Especially if your cherries are large, double check that all pits have been removed. It is not fun to bite down on a cherry pit unexpectedly.