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Summer picnic tables aren't complete without a large bowl of freshly chilled cherries as the centrepiece, enjoyed with cheese and crackers or ice-cream and cake. On a day trip or weekend holiday west of the Blue Mountains, beginning in November, you can pick your own cherries, enjoying the delights of farm work without the backpacker tax. Local orchard owners watch as families swarm through the trees until the branches are picked clean of ripe cherries.
Cherries are also one of our healthiest superfoods, with the deep red skin and flesh rich in antioxidants and flavinoids, both combating cellular damage. If you prefer the tart, or sour, flavours of Morellos, popular for jams and preserves, you're also getting a dose of anthocyanin, thought to aid arthritis and gout sufferers.
Picking Your Own (PYO) is easy – hold the base of the stalk, nearest to the branch, between your thumb and first finger then gently twist for a clean break. Choose fruit glowing with colour on shiny, firm skin with bright green stems. Once picked, keep them cool, ideally in the covered box supplied by the orchard or in an esky.
For a recipe ingredient, cherries make for excellent jam, once you've pitted the fruit. Hosting a dinner party? You can add cherries to each dish, with cherry quinoa salad for starters, Moroccan Cherry Lamb for main course then finishing with Black Forest trifle or cherry cake with cinnamon for dessert.
Plan your visit to include the National Cherry Festival in Young on Friday 1 - Sunday 3 December, 2017.
During the annual event, activities includ pie eating, pip spitting, young rodeo, a street parade, orchard tours and live country music with Troy Cassar-Daley. Plan you visit at the National Cherry Festival website and the orchards in Young.
Begin the Pick Your Own adventure one of these 10 cherry farms in the Bathurst, Orange, Cowra and Young regions of New South Wales.
Allambie Orchard – On Olympic Highway in Wombat, 3 hours west of Sydney, just south of Young, you can pick 20 varieties of cherries, ranging from the Supremes, Eagles and Empress in mid-November, Vista, Black Star and white cherries in early-mid December and Lapins, sour cherries and Stella in the last weeks of the season in late December and early January. The first weekend in December, in the middle of the peak season, is the perfect time to visit. During the season, they're open for picking 7 days a week from 8am – 6pm. Contact Allambie on (02) 63 843 243 or via email. You can also check their Facebook page for updates.
Ballinaclash Orchard & Cellar Door – On Olympic Highway South, in Young, you'll find cherries but also plums and apricots to fill pick-your-own punnets and boxes. Ballinaclash seems to stock all things cherry, including cherry ice cream, pies, sauces, dessert wines and jams. They even host cherry pie baking classes and tours of their blossom gardens. Their grapevines also produce award-winning wine, including the Cabernet Sauvignon. They open 7 days during the season, starting in mid-November. Contact them at 0418271770, email or Facebook.
Bit o' Heaven PYO Cherry Orchard – At Fontenoy Road, Young, you can also PYO plums and grapes in December and again during February and March. Contact them on (02) 6384 3353.
Cherry Hill South Orchard – On Cowra Road, Young, just south of Cowra, the season for cherry picking is usually during November and December. Contact them on (02) 6382 2513.
Gleann Mohr Farm – At 4249 Olympic Highway, Young, you can also pick strawberries and peaches during December and January. You can sample local eggs and honey or treat yourself to fruity homemade jams and pies in the farm store. Open 7 days a week from 9am, you can contact them on 0438 593 423 or via email.
(by Main Range Cherry Orchard)
Hillside Orchard and Craft Centre – On 1209 The Escort Way in Borenore in the Orange District, you can PYO cherries in November and December. These are usually picked clean as the new year starts but pickers can select apricots, blackberries, boysenberries, nectarines, peaches and plums in January and February. In autumn, you can pick the lunchbox staples – apples and pears. The orchard's store lives up to a cityslicker's imaginings of a country corner grocer, housed in a large tin shed with wooden shelves lining the walls containing fruit, jams and preserves. In the refrigerators and stacked on wooden crates, fresh veges, eggs and oils are available. Contact them on (02) 6365 2247 or on Facebook.
Lavender Hill – Since 1997, just over 9km north of Young, on Shirrenden Hill Rd, you can pick up 9 different varieties of cherries, including the tart tasting Samba, sweet Regina and dark, easy to pit, perfect for jam, Supremes, until the sun sets. During the season, from early November until Christmas, you can also buy 2 and 5kg boxes of pre-picked fruit. Year-round, you can relax throughout the year on a farmstay in the cabins or in your own caravan. Contact Graham on 0427 827 262 or via email.
Lynton Orchards – On the corner of Roberts Rd and Olympic Hwy, approximately 6km south of Young, you can also pick a variety of stonefruit, including apricots, nectarines and plums. The orchards are lined with long rows of cherry blossoms, dotting the field with glowing whites and pinks leading into the horizon. In the grocery store, beneath the 'Waitawhile Rd' sign, you can buy honey, free range eggs, boxes of cherries and Janerik green plums, fibre-rich and very sour. Contact them on 0405 555 145, via email or Facebook, where they post regular photo updates on the flowering cherry trees.
Main Range Cherry Orchard – On 831 Boundary Rd, Young, you can PYO cherries, filling the 5kg buckets before transferring them to your esky to keep them fresh for the drive home. During the season, typically finishing in December, you can pick from 8am-5pm on weekends. Be quick though - in 2016/17, the trees were picked clean by the 12th of December. Entry is free and each kilo costs only $7.50. You can also take a tour with the owners, discovering the picking and packing secrets of the experts. If you get a taste for picking, you can work in the orchard, either picking or packing cherries for sale. Contact Main Range on 6384 3285, on Facebook or via email.
Stockman's Ridge – Newly expanded on 2160 Limekilns Rd, Bathurst, the Stockman's PYO orchard will blossom with new varieties in November 2017. At the end of the 2016/17 season, relocation of the cherry orchard began, growing a new crop with 4 times as many trees. Pick you fill for $10/kg. The site also serves award-winning wines, particularly the 2014 Rider Shiraz, from the cellar, hosts weddings and functions and accommodates visitors keen for a idyllic farm stay in the Swagman Homestead. Contact them on (02) 6365 6212 or via email.
Where have you found the sweetest (or sourest if that's your preference) cherries? Please let us know with a comment.