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Life is Just a Field of Cherries


As someone who writes and talks about produce for a living, I probably know more than your average Joe about fruit. But since most of my work is done from behind a computer, getting the opportunity to take a few great food bloggers out to the Rainier Fruit Company cherry farms in Yakima, Washington was an experience I couldn’t turn down. I flew to central Washington with a few Whole Foods Market® colleagues and met Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking, Anjali Prasertong from Eat Your Greens and The Kitchn and Meghann Anderson of Meals and Miles for a two-day cherry immersion. 

One of the most surprising parts of the trip was the climate in Yakima Valley, which is technically a desert (no Seattle rains there!) The days in the summer get hot – close to 100 degrees – and then drop 30 to 40 degrees at night, which is ideal for the crops grown there (besides cherries, there are also apples, blueberries, pears, wine grapes and hops).

We spent some time in the fields learning how to pick and what the growers look for. Size is key. Since the size of the pit within the cherry is practically the same for all cherries, the larger the cherry, the more fruit you get in relation to the pit.They also measure the sweetness, or Brix, of the cherry in the field and the warehouse using a refractometer. For cherries, this can run anywhere from 17 – 30 percent sugar.

We aren’t the only ones who love cherries – birds do too. Rainier employs several methods to keep their crops safe. Bird netting hangs over many of the crops which not only helps keeps birds out, but also maintains a more moderate temperature. They also have falconers who train falcons to help keep unwanted birds away.

Cherries are highly perishable, so right after picking, they are whisked away to the warehouse where they are quickly cooled with water to 40 degrees (optimal for testing) and then tested for five qualities:

  • Firmness
  • Width
  • Stem diameter
  • Color
  • Brix

The cherries then begin their “water slide” to get cooled and sorted. Rainier again uses hydrocoolers to get the cherries down to the right temperature for storage and shipping. It starts with a team who sorts the cherries looking for any defects (such as rain damage or size issues).  Any cherries that don’t make the cut get pulled out and sold to companies that make maraschino cherries or jam. The cherries then slide through machines that sort them by size.

It’s usually just twenty-four hours from farm to truck, so often the cherries you see in stores were still on the tree just two to three days earlier, depending on where you are – talk about fresh! But eating them off the tree, it doesn’t get any fresher than that. The best part of the day was the side-by-side tasting of five different cherry varieties: Lapin, Skeena, Rainier, Sweetheart and Bing. I had to go back for several tastes, just to make sure I could pick a favorite. Mine happened to be the Sweetheart because of the balance between tart and sweet flavors, but they were all really delicious.

The varieties aren’t always called out on the signs in our stores, so next time you’re shopping for cherries, ask a produce team member which varieties they have in that day.

Thanks to our fearless bloggers for joining us in the fields and to Rainier Fruit Company for a great couple days learning all about cherries. Now I really am an expert in the field!

Do you fancy yourself a cherry expert? What’s your favorite variety?

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pwkramer says …

that sounds like an amazing trip!

kim says …

We find only two types of cherries at Wholefoods, pink and red colors. What varieties are they? Do Wholefoods markets carry other kinds?

Cheryl from Alpharetta, Georgia says …

I'm new to cherries; they've been right at the door lately so I decided to try the so called "white" cherries (they're really white and pink) and they were delicious. Then i tried the larger, yellow and pink variety--yum! I'm hooked and hoping my family will get over the dislike of dealing with pits and enjoy them as much as I do. Thanks for this informative piece.

Scheherazade says …

I'm not sure of the name but I have been drinking 'Cheribundi' after workouts because of the anti-inflammatory benefits. They are tart cherries and they really do work. Keeps you from having muscle soreness the next day. If Wholefoods doesn't stock them now, they should !

holli says …

I wait each year for the summer and the fruit that it brings! My favoirites are CHERRIES!!!!! I love them all, but I'm partial to the Rainier kind. That sweet, tart, firm flesh just makes me so happy. I eat 'em til there are none left. Much to my boyfriends dismay.

Stuart says …

I really wish this passion for cherries extended to the Whole Foods stores where I shop (near Boston). The workers in the store don't know what Rainier cherries are. They think the Bings marked with the Rainier Fruit company logo are Rainier cherries. Furthermore, they can't keep the Rainier cherries in stock. They seem to get a few every now and then and have no idea why they can't get more. I'm a recent transplant from Seattle where we grew to love and know our cherries.

Patty says …

I eat at least 1# each of blackberries, blueberries and about 2-3# of Bing cherries. I wish I liked Ranier cherries though I just only like the BING Cherries. I have been living with leukemia for 18+ years and though there re no statastatics my Oncologists think that my health diet has did alot towards my longevity

Patty says …

As a leukemia survivor of 18 years, I was diagnosed with leukmemia @ age 36, I met with a nutritionist I changed my entire diet for I was given a very poor prognosis. Working as a nurse @ Barnes Emergency Dept. for 19 years,I started reading everything in print about foods that fight cancer cells. I usually eat at least 1 pint of blueberries, 1# of blackberries, about 2# of cherries, though I have to say I do not care for the ranier Cherries but love BING CHERRIES. 18 years have passed & I am doing well. No one knows what the past 18 years have been like since I was diagnosised @ age 35 and though they are not sure if my change in diet is what has changed the status of leukemia but my Oncologist said that my body is definetly one of a kind. f green tea daily with only STEVIA. I am now easting about 2# of cherries daily, I do not care for the Ranier only the