Wild cherries (Prunus avium), which are not indigenous to Scandinavia, were probably imported by travelers during the Iron Age. The trees took root and so did a taste for the cherries among the locals, who have been gathering them to eat fresh, or dried, ever since. Learn more about Scandinavian cherry.
Wild cherry trees are common in deciduous forests, while cultivated ones are found in many country gardens – though they grow to an enormous size so can rarely be accommodated in smaller gardens. Cultivated, sweet cherries are the same species, bred for uniformity of taste and size. The cultivars we grow are almost all British.
The sour cherry (Prunus cerasus) is much hardier than its sweet cousin. It was imported to Britain by the Romans from where it probably came to Scandinavia. Sour cherries grow on small, spindly trees that are much easier to accommodate – and also well worth growing – in small gardens. Their fragrant, cloud-like blooms are a wonderful sight in early spring.
Related: Scandinavian Pear
Appearance and taste
Wild cherries are sexually reproduced and they are extremely variable, some are large and resemble modern cultivars, while others have a pronounced almond taste, and some are wickedly sour. Modern sweet cherry cultivars can be huge or small, crisp or soft, early or late, dark red or scarlet, and they are all good to eat fresh.
Sour cherries are the size of very large blackcurrants and will dye your crimson all over. They come off the stem when you pick them, while sweet cherries come off the branch with their stem attached. The famous Marasca cherry, called Stevnsbær in Scandinavia, is an extremely tasty cultivar. Juice from sour cherry cultivars can be red or almost black, depending on the variety.
Related: Scandinavian Crab Apple
Sour cherries are never eaten as a dessert fruit.
Like all dark fruit, cherries are full of antioxidants, iron and, when fresh, lots of vitamin C.
Buying and storing
Sweet cherries can be bought anywhere in the summer season, while sour cherries are hard to find. Frozen sour cherries are a very good substitute for fresh ones, if you want to cook with them.
Related: Fruit From Scandinavia
Sweet cherries are generally eaten just as they are. Sour cherries are usually inedibly sour when fresh but give a rich, almondy taste to all jams, liqueurs, cakes and sauces when cooked. The traditional use for sour cherries is in a special sauce for riz à la mande, an almond-flavored rice pudding, and homemade cherry brandy – both of which are traditionally consumed on Christmas Eve. Wild cherries with an acid taste and dark flesh are fine to use in cooking as well.
This is a drink for Christmas. When the fruit is in season, fill a wine bottle with fresh, whole sour cherries. Add 200g sugar and fill the bottle with unflavored schnapps, dark rum or vodka. Then simply sit back and wait for Christmas, when we traditionally drink cherry brandy with dessert on the 24th December. It’s also a wonderful addition to the spiced, hot Christmas drink gløgg.
Scandinavian Cherry, written by Tor Kjolberg.
Feature image (on top): Photo by frukt.no