Banner cherry year prompts free neighbourhood u-pick

Middle of the cherry tree, bursting with fruit. /PHOTO: Anne Hawe

How often do you come across a fruit tree in the city with a cute sign underneath inviting you to pick as much as you want? It was a first for me and I would’ve walked right past it if someone hadn’t pointed out the Evans Cherry tree slightly overhanging the sidewalk.

The cherries didn’t look exactly like those you buy in the store but there it was. It was a mature tree maybe eleven feet tall, covered in cherries and in the easiest picking spot in the very front of the yard.

So what are Evans Cherries? Well they definitely aren’t sweet like the Bing cherries you buy at the grocery store. They’re smaller too and a bright red colour with translucent flesh. The sour taste is more tangy than bitter and they tasted great straight off the tree that evening.

As well as a brief description of Evan’s Cherries, the sign included some yummy ways to use them. Pie baking, dehydrating, jelly, juice; there seemed no end of ways to use these cherries. The owners of the tree had even thoughtfully provided a container full of bags to put the cherries in.

It looks like a lot of cherries, but it’s considerably less once they’re pitted. /PHOTO: Anne Hawe

I’d been hoping Canadian peaches or blueberries would arrive in No Frills at bargain basement prices so I could bake a pie. Now I could make a sour cherry pie with fresh organic local fruit I’d picked myself which has to be one of the quintessential summer experiences.

Evans Cherries

Evans Cherries are a Northern hardy zone 3a sour cherry (Prunus Cerasus) developed in Alberta.

Until fairly recently, it was widely thought that cherries couldn’t be grown in the harsh climate of the Prairies. This was disproved by Leuan Evans, a horticulturist and a research scientist with Alberta Agriculture, who these cherries are named after.

In 1976, Evans met Mrs. Borward, a gardener near Fort Saskatchewan, who had cherry trees thriving and producing abundant fruit in her garden. She’d had these trees since 1923 but the garden was about to be razed to make way for a federal penitentiary. She let him take some of the plants for himself and for the Alberta Tree Museum. He then distributed cuttings to a wide circle of people. Everyone raved about the ease of propagating them from cuttings and the abundant fruit they bore.

At that time, nurseries refused to believe cherries could be grown on the prairies despite the fact people were growing them abundantly from these trees. Eventually, in the early 1990’s, DNA Gardens in Central Alberta began producing them by the thousands and in 1994, they began to be grown across the country.

It’s now the #1 cherry tree selling in Canada due to its hardiness, abundant fruit and ease of propagation; it’s so easy to grow that you can even start one from a cherry pit.

The recipe I found online called for four to five cups of pitted drained cherries and one cup of cherry juice. Five cups of pitted drained cherries equals a lot of fresh cherries necessitating two more trips back to the tree to pick more.

And the pitting did not go well. The handy tips on the sign suggested using a paperclip or toothpick to pit them but I didn’t have either at hand.

I ended up scoring a cross at the base of the cherry and pushing the pit out through that as someone suggested. Only later did I read that you could push the tiny pits out with a drinking straw and I think this method probably works best. Alternately using a chopstick to push the pit through apparently also works well.

I didn’t realize the five cups of pitted cherries were meant for a deep dish pie so my pie overflowed a bit and I had to use remedial methods like sticking an extra pie shell on top when I’d meant to do a lattice. Three and a half to four cups of pitted cherries would’ve been ample.

Not being a habitual baker, I took a few more shortcuts and my pie didn’t look as pretty as it might’ve done if I’d been less hasty.

Yes my pie turned out well though it may not look like it from the pictures below. My neighbours too found it very tasty and enjoyed their slices. has an easier recipe for cherry pie filling. It calls for four cups of pitted cherries, 1/4 cup of cornstarch and 1 cup of sugar.

You put the cherries in a covered saucepan over medium heat, stirring often until they come to a simmer (about 10-15 mins).

In a bowl, whisk together the sugar and cornstarch until smooth, then pour the mixture into the hot cherries and thoroughly combine.

Return the pot to low heat, bring to a simmer and cook for about two minutes until the mixture has thickened. Wait until it’s cooled and there you have your pie filling.

I used a very similar recipe but draining the pitted cherries was extra work. However the leftover cherry juice I drank was an unexpected bonus. Evans Cherries are very juicy, and the juice with a little sugar mixed in, is a wonderfully refreshing summer drink.

So what prompted the owners generosity?

Well, firstly they were inundated with fruit this summer as it was an amazing year for cherries and these trees can produce 50 lbs of cherries. They’d already picked the top of the tree and their neighbours had also picked their fill.

Not only was anyone else welcome to pick the rest but the helpful tips they’d written down made it a fun experience. Because of their friendly gesture more than a few of us baked and shared some great cherry desserts.

For me it was a trip down memory lane as it had been 30 years since I’d picked any type of fruit. Like so many of us in the city I’m used to buying fruit at the grocery store that usually comes from elsewhere like Chile, Mexico and the US and is pre-packaged in plastic.


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