Rainier Cherries - From a Garden in Kensington

The United States Rainier Cherry Season is now under way in the UK, with the beautiful large, premium yellow fruit now available in store at M&S.

The Rainier was developed in 1952 at Washington State University, as the unexpected outcome of a cross between 2 red cherry cultivars: the "Bing" and the "Van". It was named after Mount Rainier, an active volcano in the Mount Rainier National Park in Washington

The Rainier is considered a high-end fruit, being very sweet with creamy yellow flesh. It is an exceptionally large cherry, with high sugar levels of typically 17-23%. It is also susceptible to temperature, wind and rain, and can be fragile during transportation owing to its thin skin, which bruises easily. The cherry juice does not stain, making it an ideal fruit for children.
In California Rainiers are available from May to June, but for the North West Cherries in Washington, Oregon and Montana the season is from early June to mid August.

So what is the connection between the Yellow Rainier Cherry and a garden in Kensington?

The garden in question is the Official Residence of Lewis Lukens, the Chargé d’Affaires of the Embassy of the United States of America, and it was the venue for a London reception to celebrate the start of the United States Rainier Cherry Season in the UK. The event was organised by Pink Sky for Adventures In Fruit, in collaboration with North West Cherries USA and food retailer M&S, and the garden was transformed by an Oriental style pergola, decorated with cherry blossoms and hung with paper lanterns. Music was expertly provided by John Wright, pianist, who enhanced the evening with mellow jazz standards from a piano in the garden.

The Chargé d’Affaires himself was in attendance, and gave a warm welcome to around 40 guests, which included members of the food trade press, food bloggers, writers and chefs. Among those invited were food writers Christy Lam: thelazyfoodie.net, Kate Wesson, Lucy Weston, and Snita Pandoria.  Ian Cumming, Bake Off Finalist 2015, was also presnet, as did Rosemary Shrager, and many other notable journalists and eminent figures from within the food industry.

The star of the show was the Yellow Rainier Cherry, and a huge bowl of these beauties took centre stage on a table under the pergola for sampling purposes.

Our compére for the evening was TV Celebrity Chef Marcus Bean, who talked to us about what the evening would involve, notably a 5 course tasting menu prepared by the Embassy Chefs, showcasing the Rainier Cherry.

We were then introduced to George Smith of North West Cherries, USA, who gave us a fascinating insight into the many health benefits of eating cherries. The Embassy Chef then described for us how the evening’s menu had been created, and the recipes were available in a book for everyone to take away at the end.

The versatility of Rainier Cherries was aptly demonstrated when our guests were treated to the 5 course tasting menu, each featuring the cherry as an ingredient or a garnish. We enjoyed the menu below, accompanied by Rainier Cherry Mojitos!

Tasting Menu for Rainier Cherries

  • Herb-coated Goat’s Cheese, Cherry Chutney, Cherry Focaccia
  • BBQ Mackerel with Soused Rainier Cherries, Cider Vinaigrette and Emince of Fennel
  • Roast Tarragon Chicken Ballotine, Wilted Kale, Cherry Jus
  • Cherry Mousse and Sorbet
  • Individual Summer Sherry and Cherry Trifle

In preparation for the event, the chefs discovered that slightly less fresh cherries – a week or so after purchase – were better for the cooked dishes than fresh ones, but fruits for garnish obviously needed to be fresh!

Delicious recipes using Rainier Cherries, including the above from the Embassy Chefs, will soon be available at www.adventuresinfruit.com.

A huge amount of work went into the preparation of this reception, most of it done by Pink Sky within a very short time frame, with certain protocols which had to be observed. In spite of this, the venue and food prompted many compliments, including:

"This is hands down the best event I’ve ever been to!"

"The little touches make all the difference."

Our very grateful thanks to Chargé d’Affaires, Lewis Lukens, and his staff for their involvement, and for allowing us to use this beautiful Residence for a very successful evening on behalf of the North West Cherry Growers.

Hopefully the event will be repeated.

Rainier Cherries 2017

The Rainier season this year was delayed by cooler temperatures, but the crop is expected to be good.

"The Harvest has been pushed back by a couple of weeks when compared to recent years and is expected to begin in the second week in June. The estimate (2017 season) includes a strong Rainier crop which should exceed the last couple of years, which saw 1.7 million (15 pound) boxes shipped."
- Kevin Rounce, writing for North West Cherries

"Big volumes and excellent quality berries."
- Roger Pepperl, Stemilt Growers

The window of production is limited, so advertising campaigns for sales need to be highly concentrated during this short season.

Food retailer M&S was the first UK store to sell Rainier Cherries in the 1980's. They are now in store in abundance! In addition to the Rainier, some excellent English cherry varieties are also on sale: Kordia, Sweetheart and Regina.