Veronique and Vincent Schaljo of Hamilton, along with their infant son Ezra, enjoy some sweet cherry picking in the Duffin orchard last Sunday, along with Josee Fauvelle of Welland, and Dany Lizotte of Montreal. DON RICKERS

Recent spell of hot weather a blessing to tender fruit

July 1 signals two things in Pelham: Canada Day, of course, and opening day for the Town’s crop of sweet cherries.

Duffin Farms on Rice Road was open on the holiday last Wednesday, and proprietor Kim Duffin was understandably busy. Locals were already lining up for “pick your own” baskets at 8 AM, and Duffin said that many from the GTA also made the trip to Fonthill to load up on the sweet drupes.

“It’s kind of an annual ritual for some Torontonians…a family outing,” said Duffin.

What are drupes, you ask? By definition, berries are fruits stemming from one flower which have two or more seeds. Thus, a cherry, which has just one seed, doesn’t make the cut as a berry. Rather, cherries are drupes, which means that they are from a family of fleshy fruit with thin skin and a central stone that contains a seed. Nectarines, apricots, peaches, and mangoes are all drupes…as are coconuts and olives.

The Duffin farm sits on the Fonthill Kame, an elevated morraine composed of sand and gravel that was deposited eons ago by retreating glaciers.

“We didn’t get hit with the frost and hail that came through the region in the spring, and so the cherry crop is excellent,” said Duffin. “The recent heat has really increased the sugar content…they are beautiful cherries, firm and sweet.”

Kim Duffin checking the merchandise on the traditional opening day of July 1. DON RICKERS

Many varieties of sweet cherries are available, including Hedelfingers, Cavaliers, and the traditional standard, Bings (which generally ripen a bit later in the season). Duffin said that they have other varieties that are so new they are classified with numbers rather than names.

Three-litre baskets are $15, four litres are $20, and a seven-litre basket is $30. Duffin said that a three-litre basket can be filled in about 10 minutes. And that’s picking from the ground level, with no need to mount a ladder.

Cherry season is weather-dependent, but generally runs the first three weeks of July.

“By the first of August, we’re on to plums and peaches, and then sour cherries,” said Duffin.

Social distancing is easy in the Duffin orchard during these COVID times, because hundreds of sweet cherry trees are spread over six acres.

“I tell people, if you see someone on a tree, just go to the next one,” said Duffin.

Safety protocols are in place. A wash station is provided on site, and Duffin provides the picking baskets. In past years, Duffin would loan picking baskets, and then bag what was picked. To minimize contact, customers are now taking the actual baskets home.

This season’s sales volume is uncertain, given that the highway buses which in previous years would drop off loads of people from the GTA to pick cherries on a weekend have been curtailed due to COVID safe-distancing restrictions.

But Duffin is optimistic that Niagara residents will turn out in force to enjoy the crop, despite the fact that cherries imported from the USA are readily available in grocery stores.

“You can taste the difference in cherries that are freshly picked off the tree,” she asserted.