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FRUITS OF CALIFORNIA

Cherry Varieties

May 17, 2000|DAVID KARP

Bigarreaux. Firm-fleshed, roundish cherries such as Bing and Rainier. Prototype was Yellow Spanish, a 400-year-old variety. Name, from bigarre, meaning mottled, originally referred to yellow fruits with a red blush, such as Royal Ann.

Bing. Seedling of Black Republican named after the Chinese workman who found it at the Lewelling nursery of Milwaukee, Ore., in 1875. Large, very crisp, dark red skin and flesh, complex flavor, aromatic. Midseason. The predominant commercial cherry, 83% of California's crop. Among the best, if well grown.

Black Eagle. Cross of Yellow Spanish with May Duke, selected in England about 1810. A heart-shaped, small, tender, deep purple or nearly black, with a rich, high-flavored juice. Early to midseason.

Black Republican. Seedling of Black Eagle originating in 1860 at the Oregon farm of Seth Lewelling, an ardent abolitionist; name antagonized pro-slavery neighbors. Small to medium, firm, dark red to glossy black, very sweet with a distinguishing smack of astringency. Late season. Excellent flavor, but too small for commerce.

Black Tartarian. Originally from Russia, introduced to U.S. in early 19th century. Medium, soft, purplish-black; has rich, nuanced blackberry flavor. Early. One of the oldest, best-known hearts; still available because it's used as a pollinator.

Brooks. Cross of Rainier with Burlat, released by UC Davis, 1988. Large, very firm; skin and flesh range from pink to purple; low-acid, tastes reasonably good even when immature; flavor excellent when ripe. Early. Resistant to spurs and doubles; mostly grown for export; 5% of California's crop.

Burlat (Early Burlat). French variety, selected by L. Burlat; released in the U.S., 1961. Medium size and firmness, fair flavor when ripe. The earliest cherry.

Duke. Class of hybrids between sweet and sour cherries, ideally mixing refreshing acidity and sweetness. The prototype and most celebrated, May Duke, dates from 1688. Revered as the finest cherries in the 18th and 19th centuries, Dukes are rarely grown today except in Eastern Europe. Excellent for preserves.

Heart. Class of soft-fleshed cherries, often heart-shaped, such as Black Tartarian and Coe's Transparent (above). Many have excellent flavor but are too delicate to ship. No longer commercially important. Also called "geans."

Montmorency. Old French variety. Small to medium, bright red skin, pale yellow flesh with pink juice, tart. Midseason. The leading sour-pie cherry variety, important in Michigan and New York but rare in California.

Rainier. Cross of Bing with Van; originated in Prosser, Wash.; introduced 1960. Very large; skin yellow, covered by pink-red blush where exposed to sun; flesh firm, white-yellowish, very sweet when ripe. Midseason. A premium cherry but hard to grow; just 2% of California's crop.

Royal Ann (Napoleon). Old European bigarreau, first named Lauermann; renamed Napoleon; Seth Lewelling brought trees to Oregon in 1847, lost the labels but recalled the name featured royalty. Medium to large, skin yellow with pink-red blush; flesh firm, white-yellowish; flavor superb when ripe. Midseason. Once California's leading variety, now used for processing; rarely planted today, usurped by Rainier.

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