Carmine Jewel tart-cherry -- first harvest!

don555(3a)August 3, 2014

These cherry bushes were released from the University of Saskatchewan cherry breeding program in I think 1999, but weren't widely available even here in Canada until 2003. I bought mine as a potted plant in 2011. It has flowered every year but this is the first year I've got a crop. Last year it had about 4 cherries but something got them before I did. This year it produced around 3 pounds. My understanding is that next year and in future years it could produce 20-30 lbs. Guess we'll see.

Anyway, below is a photo of the bush before picking today. Kind of nice that the cherries are hidden on the inside of the bush, making it less likely that birds will see them.

Push back the branches with your arm and here's what it looks like inside:

In reality the cherries are a bit darker than they appear in this photo below, but I include this to give some scale. The Canadian quarter in this pic is identical in size to a U.S. quarter. They are smallish cherries, and the pits are really small, maybe twice the size of a pin cherry or chokecherry pit.

Here's my set-up for pitting these cherries, it makes very quick work of them. The fresh cherries are in the bowl on the left, you place them on the angled metal plate and they roll down to the pitter, then you whack the plunger to remove the pit and send the pits into the small plastic container below the plunger, while the pitted cherries drop into the yellow pyrex bowl on the right side. Very cool. This vintage pitter was originally my wife's grandmother's, she got it around 1925.

First batch pitted and ready for freezing (I did a second batch later on). Not sure where these will end up... smoothies, pies, cherry juice, tarts....

As for the taste, I find them nice to eat fresh for the first five or ten, then the tartness becomes increasingly noticeable. Hey, they are called tart cherries for a reason!

These were picked fairly soon after turning purple, some people like to leave them on the bush longer to try to sweeten them further. But I tried that last year with the 4 cherries the bush produced in 2013, and something beat me to them and I never got to even try one. Plus I've read stories about people having problems with fruit-cracking for cherries left on the bush. That said, I did leave several dozen cherries on the bush so I can see for myself what happens to their sweetness etc. over the next month or so.

These were harvested August 2, which might seem late for many tart cherry growers, but I am in zone 3 so everything is slower here. I have 4 other varieties of tart cherries in my yard, in various color stages, but Carmine Jewel is the only variety I consider to have ripened so far.

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What size cherry bush / plant did you start out with? That's a lot of growth for 3 years.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 6:55AM
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Those cherries look really great Don. I love the color that they have. It will be interesting to see if the cherries that are left on the bush, do sweeten more.

With the winter damage that I had on my CJs, I think that I'm still 2 years away from a harvest like that. Mine are the same age in the ground as yours but started out much smaller at planting time.

It looks like your bush is now about 5ft? Don't they have to be 7 to 7.5 ft to produce the 20# crops?

Did you have to use and sprays this season?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 7:49AM
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Very nice Don! That's a cool pitting operation (now I'm gonna have to be on the lookout for a vintage pitter...)

I've never used a pitter on my other tart cherries, but these CJ's seem a lot more firm and less juicy. I can see that a pitter will work.

In fact Bernis at HBUSA sent me a short video presentation of a trip she made to a "Pick Your Own" orchard in SK. They were using a modern manual cherry pitter and said you could do a whole pail in about 20 min. (looked like a 5 qt Ice Cream bucket)

They said they found that if they chilled them in the freezer to not quite frozen, that they seemed to pit better.

Great shot of showing how the berries kinda hide in there. I like that aspect too, because even though some birds still found their way to the inside it's clearly a lot less often.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 9:48AM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

Very nice Don!
We've tried various similar looking pluncher type cherry pitters but returned them all because of the one's in a while misses,..hate to think about the odd pit in the pie,..worth yet to bite into and brake a tooth! Now we pit with a single hand held pitter,.. you'll have the pit every time in you hand.

Any pit misses with this vintage pitter?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 1:33PM
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jtburton, it was a fair size when I planted it, definitely not a plug. Here's a pic about a week after I planted it in May 2011:

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 4:42PM
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Northernmn, the bush is 5 to 5.5 feet tall and I keep it in check a bit with garden shears once a year to tidy up the new growth (trimmed about a month ago). I think they say mature size is 6 to 8 feet, so it's got another foot or two to go.

I only ever sprayed it in the first year, because I fertilized it when I planted it and that led to soft growth which attracted aphids. Since then no fertilizer and no need to spray.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 4:47PM
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iowager, yes, I could see that if you had some practise you could pit an ice cream pail in 20 minutes, maybe even less. Interesting idea about chilling the cherries, though for this variety it doesn't seem necessary.

Konrad, I'll have to wait until we've eaten these cherries before I can answer your question about missed-pits. The pitter seemed very good at removing the pits, but if pitted cherries built up in the bowl they could block the exit chute, and then an unpitted cherry could roll over the top and get into the bowl. Only happened a few times, not sure if I caught them all or not. I have a single hand-pitter too, but wouldn't that take forever, or can one get very fast at hand-pitting one cherry at a time?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 4:55PM
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I visit Northern Michigan for summer vacations and stop by the pick you own cherry orchards there to get fresh cherries. How does the flavor compare to a 'typical' cherry tree?

I have seen the small 4" pots sold online but where did you buy yours?

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 8:10PM
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Konrad___far_north(3..just outside of Edmonton)

>>can one get very fast at hand-pitting one cherry at a time?Yes,..especially when you have your hubby helping along,..two pitters.

    Bookmark   August 3, 2014 at 9:25PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

These are aimed at colder zones, but do they perform better than "tree" cherries in the East?

By the way, what actual species are these hybridized from? Are they in the P. besseyi line or something else?

Do they actually taste like a tart cherry fruit (P. cerasus)?

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 2:39PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

By the way, what actual species are these hybridized from?

Prunus cerasus x P. fruticosa

About 5 other cultivars exist.
Crimson Passion

This post was edited by Drew51 on Tue, Aug 19, 14 at 21:22

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 9:16PM
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In Kansas the carmine jewel cherries eventually turn almost black. They have a delicious flavor and ripened here in June. The bushes you are growing look great!

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 10:22PM
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Here's a pic of my various cherries side-by-side. The Evans is thought to maybe be a seedling from Montmorency -- similar in most respects but a bit hardier.

All too tart to sit down and eat a bowl of them, but Juliet is the easiest to eat out-of-hand, with Cupid a close second. Those two I can eat quite a few of at a sitting, the others all get pretty tart after a half dozen or so. The Evans isn't bad either but it didn't seem to have as much taste as the darker cherries.

The Canadian quarters in the photo are identical is size to a U.S. quarter.

    Bookmark   August 19, 2014 at 11:50PM
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Thanks Don, Excellent info and a great picture. I still need to find a source for Juliet and Cupid down here south of the border. My CJs are looking pretty good again.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 8:15AM
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Tony(Zone 5. Omaha, Nebraska)


I have Carmine Jewel and Crimson Passion. To me the Crimson Passion was sweeter than Carmine Jewel. Have you had the chance to compare Crimson Passion with the rest of your cherry collection?


    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 8:27AM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Here's an article about testing these cherries in Michigan.

Here is a link that might be useful: making an impact

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 12:58PM
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hairmetal4ever(Z7 MD)

I didn't realize they had P. fruiticosa in their background.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 1:47PM
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drew51 SE MI Z5b/6a

Yeah the Mongolian cherry. The Romance series has been worked on for about 70 years, it was in limbo a lot of the time. More releases are probably expected. The article I linked mentions Dr. Amy ­Iezzoni, whom has released 3 or 4 cultivars for MSU, Balaton, and others.
Grandpa's orchard sells them.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 2:34PM
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olpea(zone 6 KS)

Great post Don.

I'm curious, does your circa 1925 pitter pit more than one cherry with each handle movement, or is it one cherry at a time, even though you can fill the hopper with multiple cherries.

My wife has some cherry pitters which will remove pits from six cherries per handle thrust, but the cherries have to be loaded in the pitter by hand (not through a hopper). Wondering which one is better.

Great looking photos and cherries BTW.

    Bookmark   August 20, 2014 at 5:58PM
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Usually when I pit my cherries, I wash them after pitting and then chill in the refrigerator over night and pit them the
next day. Cold cherries are not as juicy and pit easier.

This year being a poor year for all 3 of my cherries as far as
yield (Mesabi, North Star and Surecrop), we picked a bunch of Montmorency the first week in August in Door County of Wisconsin which is a prime tart cherry growing area in the U.S. We were on vacation there and happy to
be there during the cherry season.

I noticed the growers there commercially harvest with the shaking machines and then have the fruit dump into ice water to chill them before pitting.

When we got home from vacation with the cherries, I put mine in the sink with ice water then pitted. It worked really well! A little cold on my fingers picking up the cherries but it was a good tip since I did not have room in the refrigerator to chill them all overnight like I usually do before

My modern plunger type pitter works great but the orange
plastic tab that prevents the cherry from falling thru the hole for the pits is wearing out. Can't seem to find a replacement for it. Hate to buy a new pitter because of a worn out piece of plastic. There must be a way to make something that would fit.

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 11:54AM
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skyjs(z8 OR, USA)

Does anyone on this list grow bush cherries in a climate like the wet PNW? Our spring rains normally devastate bush cherries. In E. Oregon people grow them successfully.
John S

    Bookmark   August 21, 2014 at 7:20PM
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