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Colney cherries are a medium to large varietal, averaging 3 to 4 centimeters in diameter, and have a round appearance with pointed, curved shoulders tapering to a slightly pointed base. The cherries are attached to a slender, fibrous green stem extending 4 to 5 centimeters in length, and the skin is glossy, smooth, and taut. The skin also showcases dark red, crimson, to purple hues, and a black suture line extends the fruit's length on one side. Underneath the surface, the flesh is thick, dense, aqueous, and dark red with a semi-firm, chewy, and succulent consistency. The flesh also encases a light brown, central stone. Colney cherries have a balanced sugar and acidity, creating a mild, sweet-tart flavor.
Colney cherries are available in the summer, ripening mid-July through mid-August, depending on the growing region.
Colney cherries, botanically classified as Prunus avium, are a black cherry variety belonging to the Rosaceae family. The large fruits grow on trees reaching 2 to 4 meters in height and were developed in England in the late 20th century. Colney cherries are a late-season variety with improved disease and splitting resistance and a firm, easily transportable nature. The cultivar was initially released to extend England's cherry season and was a semi-productive cherry tree with a sweet flavor. Colney cherries were named after the village of Colney on the outskirts of Norwich in Norfolk, England. At the time of the variety's creation, the John Innes Institute had research buildings along a street name Colney Lane, another inspiration for the cherry's moniker. Colney cherries are not widely cultivated in the modern day due to an influx of newer commercial varieties. Still, the cultivar has remained a favorite among cherry enthusiasts for its sweet flavor. Colney cherries are a versatile variety, consumed fresh, incorporated into beverages, or cooked into desserts and baked goods.
Colney cherries are a source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system and anthocyanins, pigmented compounds found in the flesh and skin that have antioxidant properties to reduce inflammation while protecting cells from free radical damage. The cherries also provide potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, fiber to regulate the digestive tract, manganese to build connective tissues, and contain other nutrients, including iron, vitamin K, zinc, magnesium, copper, and calcium.
Colney cherries have a sweet-tart flavor well suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The pigmented cherries have dark red flesh and juice that can stain clothing and other fabrics, so caution should be taken when handling the fruits. Colney cherries are popularly consumed straight out of hand, and the fresh cherries can also be tossed into salads, topped over parfaits, or added to grain bowls. The fruits can also be simmered into syrups, compotes, and sauces, drizzled over sweet and savory preparations, or infused into liquors, blended into smoothies, or muddled into cocktails. In addition to fresh preparations, Colney cherries can be cooked into jams, jellies, and other preserves or reduced into a thick sauce and poured over ice cream and cheesecake. The cherries can also be incorporated into chutney, baked into puddings, cakes, bread, crisps, and pies, or used to flavor frostings, fillings, and glazes for desserts. Colney cherries pair well with fruits such as watermelon, blueberries, citrus, and nectarines, cucumber, dark leafy greens, nuts including almonds, pecans, and walnuts, vanilla, chocolate, caramel, rum, and spices such as cinnamon, sage, cloves, and allspice. Whole, unwashed Colney cherries are highly perishable and should be immediately consumed for the best quality and flavor. The cherries will keep for a few days when stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator.
Colney cherries were one of several varieties released from the John Innes Center, a world-renowned plant research and breeding site. The center was initially funded by John Innes, a British philanthropist who founded a property company with his brother in London in 1864. Innes was mostly known for creating Merton Park, a London suburb with houses, parks, and farmland. In 1904, Innes passed away and left instructions in his will for his remaining money to be used to establish an art museum or research institute. The John Innes Charity partnered with the Board of Agriculture and Education to create a fruit breeding research facility in 1909 in Merton Park. In the 1930s, the research station began releasing improved fruit varieties, and in the 1960s, the entire organization moved to Norwich, the site where Colney cherries were eventually created. The John Innes Center released several commercially viable fruit cultivars and became famous for its advancements in research.
Colney cherries were developed at the John Innes Center in the city of Norwich in Norfolk, England. The variety was developed in the late 1970s and early 1980s. It was selected as a commercial variety for its resistance to disease and splitting, large size, firm nature, and late-season ripening. After its introduction, Colney cherries became a popular British variety and were planted in commercial and home orchards throughout England. The cultivar was also used in breeding programs and was a parent variety for the penny cherry, a modern commercial variety prevalent in markets in the present day. Over time, Colney cherries faded from mass commercial cultivation in favor of improved cultivars, but they are still seen throughout England planted in smaller orchards and home gardens as a specialty variety. The Colney cherries featured in the photograph above were sourced from the National Cherry Collection at Brogdale Farm in Faversham, Kent.