The countryside around Oamaru is some of the best agricultural land in New Zealand, famous for the quality of the produce that comes from its farms, from potatoes to tomatoes to hazelnuts and the list just goes on and on. While most farms in the area are raising ‘traditional’ crops, some have begun to branch out into more exotic crops, and some of these have begun to catch the attention of savvy chefs and home cooks who are looking for something interesting for their kitchens.
Among the more interesting crops that are now being raised in Oamaru are sour (aka tart) cherries. Unlike their more popular cousin the sweet cherry (Prunus avium), which can be eaten out of hand, sour cherries (Prunus cerasus) are primarily used for cooking, and are considered by many gourmets to have a more interesting and nuanced flavour than the many varieties of sweet cherries.
Sour cherries are particularly popular in Eastern Europe, and in fact the vast majority of production takes place in places like Russia, Ukraine and Turkey. In these countries the sour cherries are used to make jams, conserves, and other confections, and in Hungary they make a particularly delicious cold soup with them. And in the United States (which also grows the fruits in profusion) they are the variety of cherry to use in pies. Some people also ascribe numerous health benefits to the sour cherry, including combatting cancer, gout, pain and other ailments too numerous to list.
Anyway, the sour cherry farm outside of Oamaru is open for pick-your-own sales during late January and early February. If you would like to try some of these wonderful fruit, contact John and Maureen at Cherryvite and they’ll fill you in on the details. And here’s a link to a wonderful report from National Public Radio in the US on the uses of these great fruit!