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King cherries are a large varietal, averaging 3 to 3.5 centimeters in diameter, and have a plump, cordate shape with curved shoulders tapering to a flat, rounded base. The cherries are connected to slender, pliable, light green stems and have smooth, taut, and glossy skin. The dark red, crimson skin is semi-thin, delicate, and easily punctured, having a slight give when gently pressed. Underneath the surface, the thick red flesh is dense, aqueous, and tender with a succulent consistency. The cherries also encase a central brown stone that has a tapered, oval shape with pointed ends. King cherries are light in fragrance and have a mild, sweet, and subtly tart flavor with tangy, delicate sugary nuances.
King cherries are available in the summer, typically ripening in June or July.
King cherries, botanically classified as Prunus avium, are a specialty line of cherries belonging to the Rosaceae family. The large, seasonal fruits are cultivated by several growers throughout southern England and are exclusively sold through Marks & Spencer, a well-known British retailer. King cherries are left on the tree to develop a concentration of natural sugars, and only the largest, sweetest, and pigmented fruits are hand-picked and sold commercially. The cherries are also typically graded within two hours of picking and are available in markets 24 to 48 hours after harvest. King cherries are favored for their juicy, tender flesh, primarily consumed fresh or incorporated into an array of cooked dishes, desserts, and beverages.
King cherries are a source of fiber to regulate the digestive tract, vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, and potassium to balance fluid levels within the body. The cherries also provide anthocyanins, natural compounds that give the fruits their red coloring. Anthocyanins have antioxidant-like properties to reduce inflammation and protect the cells against damage caused by free radicals. Among other nutrients, King cherries contain some copper, zinc, vitamin E, vitamin K, calcium, and magnesium.
King cherries have a sweet taste suited for fresh and cooked preparations. It is important to note that the juice will stain fabric, and a central stone must be removed before consumption. The cherries can be pitted by pushing a straw or chopstick through the center of the flesh to pop out the stone. Once the stone is removed, the fruits are valued for their juicy, fleshy nature and are popularly consumed straight out of hand, or they are sliced and used as a fresh topping over salads, pancakes, grain bowls, and parfaits. King cherries are also naturally sweet, often served with crème fraiche to create a balanced flavor. The cherries can be sliced and layered on toast, blended into smoothies, pureed and added to cocktails, or stirred into cordials. King cherries can also be incorporated into desserts such as pavlova, cakes, tarts, pies, scones, and crisps. Try layering King cherries into Eton mess, a summertime dessert comprised of whipped cream, fruit compote, and meringue. The fruits can also be simmered into syrups, jams, jellies, and preserves or cooked into sauces for roasted meat main dishes. Beyond sauces, sliced cherries can be cooked with rice as a savory-sweet component. King cherries pair well with other stone fruits, including peaches, nectarines, and apricots, dark chocolate, caramel, vanilla, spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves, cheeses including goat, brie, blue, and ricotta, and nuts such as almonds, hazelnuts, and pecans. Whole, unwashed King cherries will keep for a few days when stored in the coldest part of the refrigerator. The fruits are perishable and should be immediately consumed for the best quality and flavor.
Kent is known as the "Garden of England" and has retained this title for hundreds of years. The picturesque countryside features fertile farmland filled with orchards and gardens, and some of the most famous fruits grown in the region are strawberries, cherries, apples, and pears. In Sittingbourne, a town in Kent, cherry growers claim the area provides a unique microclimate to produce quality cherries. Sittingbourne has historically been known for its cherry production, and the fruit tree is even featured on the city's coat of arms. At the top of the coat of arms, a large cherry tree sits in the middle of the emblem, symbolizing cherries as the region's heart. At the bottom, it is labeled with the saying "Known by our fruits," ultimately meaning "fruits of our labors," one of which is cherries. Sittingbourne cherries were historically shipped up the river into London, where they became the preferred stone fruits of royalty for generations.
King cherries are exclusively grown and cultivated in England through select farms in partnership with British retailer Marks & Spencer. The growers producing the cherries are mainly found in Southern England, with Broomfield Ridge Farm in Worcestershire and Little Sharsted Farm in Sittingbourne being two of the promoted farms. Little Sharsted Farm has been growing King cherries for Marks & Spencer for over ten years and was selected as a featured farm on Marks & Spencer's video series called Market Life. The four-part series showcased the cherry farm and its rigorous cultivation practices and shared several recipes to use King cherries in summertime dishes. Marks & Spencer has been promoting British growers to educate consumers on the value of knowing where their food comes from. Today King cherries are locally grown and seasonally sold in the summer through Marks & Spencer locations throughout England.