Last week I had the pleasure of touring the Rainier Fruit Company headquarters in Yakima, Washington. One of the fruits they are famous for growing are Rainier cherries. They also grow several other varieties of cherries, all of which are shipped nationwide and internationally for people to enjoy. I was so interested to learn how cherries are processed before they reach store shelves. It is amazing to see what they can do on such a large scale. Today I am thrilled to show you how these cherries are handled before they reach your kitchen. Warning: Reading this article is going to make you want to go buy some!
Disclosure: My trip was sponsored by the Rainier Fruit Company. The opinions and photographs in this article are entirely my own.
Fresh Cherries: From Orchard to Store 1 of 12
Cherries Grow in Clusters 2 of 12
The Rainier Fruit Company grows six varieties of cherries: Rainier, Bing, Lapin, Regina, Skeena, and Sweetheart. Other than the Rainier cherries, the rest of the varieties are various hues of red. In the store they are sold as Dark & Sweet cherries. In the fields cherries grow in large clusters on trees.
Green Stems Indicate Freshness 3 of 12
The first thing that struck me about the cherries in the trees is their amazing color! They are the richest red colors, and the stems are bright green. I learned that the greener the stem, the fresher the cherry!
Cherries Must be Picked Carefully 4 of 12
Cherries must be picked very carefully. If stems are pulled the wrong way, they could break the bud for next year's fruit. Each worker picks very small bucket loads and empties them into large palates in the orchard. The berries are immediately placed under large pieces of foam to cool them down and slow the ripening.
Cherry Orchards Are Netted 5 of 12
The cherry orchards are covered on all sides by large fine mesh nets. These help keep away birds, and protect from hail and wind. They also cool down the orchards a few degrees, which is valuable because Yakima, Washington, is a dessert! Here, you can see the palates of freshly picked cherries. Once they are full, they are immediately placed in a refrigerated truck and transported to the processing warehouse.
Rainier Cherries! 6 of 12
Special Rainier cherries are picked in smaller buckets and transported to the warehouse in them. They are especially delicate.
Cherries Get a Gentle Wash 7 of 12
Cherries are very gently placed in a bath of cold water and are moved slowly up a conveyer belt for sorting. The warehouse is kept very cold to ensure the cherries don't get too ripe.
Hand Analzyed 8 of 12
While on the conveyer belt, cherries are analyzed, and any that are unsuitable for shipment are removed. Then the cherries are dropped onto a second belt to be bagged.
Reject Cherries Make Juice! 9 of 12
Even if a cherry is unsuitable for shipment it can still be used to make juice!
Bagged by Weight 10 of 12
Rainier cherries are bagged by weight and labeled according to which store they are being shipped to. They are still kept at very low temperatures to control ripening.
Large boxes for stores 11 of 12
Some stores prefer to receive their cherries in large boxes. These are filled by weight and kept chilled so they arrive fresh.
Ready to Ship! 12 of 12
Once the cherries are bagged, they are placed in these large boxes to be chilled. Some are bound for Seattle, while others are bound for Japan! The cherries are shipped far and wide. As long as they are kept cool, they should arrive fresh at your store within a few days of picking!