The development of Prairiehardy cherry varieties has taken a giant step forward with the University of Saskatchewan’s release of the Romance Series which developers believe are even better than their earlier prize, Carmine Jewel.
Crimson Passion cherries grow to at least the size of a quarter, and are deep red in colour. They have a satisfying crispness when you bite into the fruit. The flavour is so sweet that some farmers testing out the new development started a rumour that the U of S had developed sweet cherries.
Crimson Passion grows as a short dwarf plant that never suckers. Once established, it is very hardy. And while it produces a smaller bush with less fruit per square foot, its cherries are larger than the other varieties.
Crimson Passion’s one drawback is that it appears to have trouble rooting. When buying stock from a nursery, make sure the seedling has some roots showing through the bottom of the pot.
ROMEO AND JULIET
Romeo and Juliet are similar, but different. Juliet ripens before Romeo and is deemed by many to be the best-tasting cherry in the Romance Series. Both produce large, nickel-to quarter-sized cherries that are deep red in colour.
Valentine is very sweet in taste. It is the only cherry in the series that is bright red on the outside and pink inside. While the others have luxuriously coloured juice (a deep-burgundy juice that makes lovely wines, preserves and pies) Valentine is the cherry people might want to dry because it dries to a brighter-red colour than the others.
Valentine produces the largest bush — generally about 8×8 feet. It demonstrates very vigorous growth, though it has a tendency to sucker a little. The large bush size means Valentine has the potential for producing much more fruit than the others.
Valentine is the closest thing in appearance to traditional Montmorency pie cherry grown in British Columbia and Ontario. Interestingly, because Montmorency cherries have yellow flesh and pale-pink juice, artificial dyes are added to give commercial pie fillings their “cherry-red” colour. Prairie-hardy cherries need no artificial colouring.
Another interesting bit of trivia is that the juice from dwarf sour cherries does not stain countertops or clothing like other fruits do. Countertops generally wipe clean and stains wash out of clothing with a simple cold water wash.
Cupid cherries are large and very dark red, and have a long pit. There is a certain astringency to the fruit — that extra zing, that pucker power that may be too concentrated for people who like to eat their cherries fresh. While Romeo, Juliet and Crimson Passion are ideal for fresh eating and cooking, Cupid may be more suited to confections.
Cupid blooms about a week and a half later than the other Romance varieties. All the cherries in the Romance Series bloom in mid-May, around Mother’s Day, usually a week after apples and saskatoons. They are rarely affected by late-spring frosts and begin bearing fruit three years after planting, with respectable crops after five years, and peak capacity after seven.
Hardy Prairie cherries are bred to survive winters with lows of -40C without damage, but they do benefit from protection from north and west winds. Winter damage is often a result of desiccation due to direct exposure to prevailing winds. They prefer sun and well-drained soil.
Romance Series cherries are available at most Prairie nurseries.
Darlene Polachic writes from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan