I ate the most delicious cherries the other day. I only buy cherries if they’re from neighbouring British Columbia, and I make a point of stuffing myself when they’re in season.
Eating cherries always makes me think of my Kamloops family. Kamloops, B.C., is where my dad’s oldest sister lived.
Every summer, my Auntie Jessie would send us prairie kinsfolk cases and cases of cherries and apricots and plums. These were surplus from the orchard our green-thumbed Uncle Dan had planted around their house. Such deliciousness! Us kids would pig out, and Mama would preserve the rest in half-gallon jars so we would have fruit all winter.
Did you know that cherry comes from the Middle English word cherise or cheris? People assumed that cheris must be plural, and that the singular was cheri—or cherry, as we spell it now.
Fossil records show that humans have been eating cherries since the Stone Age, but the sweet cherries we know today were brought to North America in the 1600s. In British Columbia, commercial cherry-growing dates to 1892. This was when Lord and Lady Aberdeen planted orchards on land they had purchased in the Okanagan Valley.
Sweet cherries come many varieties, but the ones I love best are the big, purply-red Bings. Bing cherries take their name from Ah Bing, the big (over 6 feet tall) Manchu immigrant who helped to propagate them in the 1870s.
Bing was an orchard foreman for the Lewelling family, Quaker abolitionists who farmed in Oregon. He worked for the Lewellings for more than 30 years, supervising a crew of 30 and sending money home to his wife and children in northern China.
In 1889, Bing went back to China for a visit. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act made it impossible for him to return to the United States.
The sweet cherries named for Ah Bing are still popular. But Canada is also a leading producer of sour cherries (also called tart cherries), which are plenty sweet enough for me.
Sour cherries are called вишні (VESH-nyee) in Ukrainian. I’ve never seen them in stores, but I’m lucky to have a generous friend who shares the bounty of her sour cherry tree.
Which brings me back to pies.
The other day I substituted sour cherries for strawberries in what was supposed to be a rhubarb-strawberry pie. Scrumptious! You should try it!
Tis the season, after all.
 Lord Aberdeen (John Campbell Hamilton-Gordon) served as Canada’s Governor General from 1893 to 1898. Lady Aberdeen, Ishbel Maria Majoribanks, established the National Council of Women of Canada in 1893 and Canada’s Victorian Order of Nurses in 1897.