Though we have two cherry trees that are native to Ireland, neither of them provide us with the Irish cherries that we use in the restaurant at the moment. The wild cherry (prunus avium) tree does produce berries but they are usually quite sour and bitter. Though the birds love them, we find them a little unpalatable. Wild cherry trees are often found in old field hedgerows where it may have been planted by farmers to provide cover for their fields.
According to the Tree Council of Ireland, these old farm trees may not be “native in the sense of ancient woodland, but they are part of our rural history, like crab apple and old varieties of apple, pear, plum and damson”. However, most cherry trees that do provide us with the sweet fruit do descend from the wild cherry. Many cultivated fruiting cherry trees are grafted onto wild cherry root stocks. Cherries, like any fruit, need heat and warmth to produce sugars. Unfortunately, we’re a bit too much of a wet and windy country to produce wild sweet cherries.
Many Irish cherry farmers grow their trees in large covered tunnels. The Apple Farm in Tipperary is one such farm. Traditionally, we would have made cherry compote or chutney with the harvest or pickled them for a later date. Recently, I came across a 19th-century recipe for pickling cherries. As all our pickles, 3 parts vinegar to 2 parts water to 1 part sugar. Bring to the boil and pour over the cherries. Fresh or pickled, cherries go wonderfully with goats' cheese. A log of St Tola Ash comes to mind, pulled into pieces, with some lightly salted cherry halves, sliced red onions and nasturtium flowers. A fine summer salad that showcases the beauty of our seasonal ingredients.
Cherries are also lovely with dessert. They pair well with rose and beetroot. Though a beetroot and rose cheesecake topped with cherries may sound a bit mad, it’s actually a wonderful dessert. Just fold 50ml of beetroot juice and 2 tsp of rose water into your cheesecake recipe and top with macerated cherry halves.