The Rainier cherry is a species of cherry that has become very popular in the American market in the past few years. It has a much firmer, but juicier, flesh than the Bing cherry, which means they keep longer in the fridge than the soft Bing.

The cherry itself is yellow and red “blush” in about equal parts on each fruit. They look like tiny apples or crab apples as much as they resemble cherries. There is often brown spotting on the fruits, because of their light skins. The flesh inside is a clear to buttery yellow all the way through. This is unavoidable and honestly does not affect the taste a single bit. As for the taste, they are something like a cross between a cherry and some other summer fruit, although which one is up for debate. Some people think they taste like they’re half grape, half white nectarine, half pear, or half of some mild apple. (My personal vote is that they taste like half cherry, half grape). Because the flavor is much milder, the fruits seem sweeter than dark red cherries.

Rainiers are actually a crossbreed between two dark red species of cherry! The Bing cherry was used as the parent tree, but was cross-pollinated with the Van cherry to produce the first generation. These fruits were first created in 1952 by Harold Fogle at Washington State University. Contrary to popular belief, the Rainier is not related to the Queen Ann cherry, although the coloring is somewhat similar. Although trees can be grown from Rainier seeds, they cannot pollinate themselves and must be cross-pollinated with a Bing , Van, or other related species of cherry. The trees themselves are usually sturdy, healthy trees, and offer a high per-tree yield of fruit.

Rainiers are not inexpensive, however, often costing roughly double the current going price of Bing cherries. This is because they are much more work to grow and produce than other species of cherry. Rain, hail, or even wind can wipe out an entire Rainier crop in a few minutes. For the same cost and work as it requires to grow 50 acres of Bings, a grower can only produce five acres of Rainiers. The cherries are picked between 4 am and noon to keep the fruits out of the heat of the day, and pickers have to be specially trained to pick the Rainier even if they know how to pick other cherries. The fruits have to be picked by the stems only and it’s highly important to not handle the fruit at all. Special care must also be taken during packing and shipping to keep the fruits from bruising, since they show marks so easily.

The market season also seems shorter than most cherries. They are available mostly in the month of July, although they season overlaps by a week or two into both June and August. Bings are often seen from early June until late August. Rainiers only account for between 3 and 5 percent of all cherries on the market at this time, although the number is growing as the fruits become more popular.

The Rainier cherry is best eaten fresh and raw, or in a fruit salad or over ice cream. Much of the distinctive flavor and texture is lost when these fruits are cooked or baked and is sometimes overpowered by the sugars and seasonings. While the resulting dish is still quite tasty, it makes more sense to use a stronger, less expensive cherry in baking projects.

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