National Rainier Cherry Day
It’s National Rainier Cherry Day! And I couldn’t think of a better way to celebrate then by sharing the history of this variety and all the effort it takes to grow, harvest, pack, and ship Rainiers cherries to your grocery stores.
Every year on July 11th cherry enthusiasts across the U.S. celebrate the Rainier cherry variety. This golden colored cherry with a red blush is a specialty variety that was born right here in Washington State as a cross between – believe it or not – two red cherry varieties!
In 1952, Washington State University researcher Harold Fogle crossed the Bing and Van varieties to create the delicate and exceptionally sweet Rainier cherry variety. Named after the great Mount Rainier in Washington State, growers began planting this variety once it was released for commercial production in 1960. Since then, Rainier has become a popular tree to aid in pollenizing dark-sweet varieties of cherries (Rainier trees are planted between red cherry trees to help attract bees to their flower blossoms in the spring) and is also grown on a large scale because its sweetness is a favorite of many.
It’s no coincidence that July 11th is National Rainier Cherry Day. This time of year marks the peak of Rainier cherry harvest for growers in Washington, which is a big deal considering Rainier cherries are only in season for two months each summer. What makes a Rainier cherry so unique? It’s the dessert, almost candy-like flavor of the fruit, which is made possible from higher Brix, or sugar levels, than their red counterparts.
But getting to that dessert experience isn’t easy. Ask any cherry grower and they’ll tell you that growing ANY cherry is a challenge, but nothing is more challenging than growing Rainier cherries. That’s because the fruit has a thin, delicate skin that is highly susceptible to bruising. Rainier cherries are hand-picked from the tree with extra caution and placed in small bags or lugs to minimize contact. Rainiers are sensitive to extreme weather and so hot temperatures, rain, or strong winds are worrisome for growers. There are also birds, who like us, love the sweet flavor of Rainier cherries. Though these challenges aren’t unique to Rainier cherries, the damage they cause is often irreversible simply because the variety is so fragile.
Because of these challenges, growers take extra measures to successfully harvest Rainier cherries. They put nets up to keep birds out of the orchard, use windscreens to protect the fruit, and hope that Mother Nature stays on their side in the days and weeks leading up to harvest.
The caution continues after Rainier cherries are harvested. Fruit is hydrocooled immediately after harvest to start the important cold chain process and maximize fruit freshness. For packing, Stemilt has dedicated lines for Rainier cherries. The lines are designed to be gentle with the variety with modern sizing equipment to help reduce sorting and handling. The fruit is also kept cold all the way to its final destination.
All of these efforts are done with one goal in mind – to produce the best tasting Rainier cherries for a true dessert eating experience. On behalf of Stemilt, Happy National Rainier Cherry Day! I hope you can celebrate in style with a bowl of plump, sweet, and juicy Rainier cherries in hand. They are truly one-of-a-kind!