So very Céret: Cherries and Bandas
With Elaine Koerner
You can’t fight Mother Nature, or so they say. In 2013, Céret’s popular annual Fȇte de la Cerise, originally programmed for May 18 and 19, was moved back to the first weekend in June. No ripe cherries, no festival, at least not quite yet. But never fear, as promised, a whole host of bands from around the region still filled the streets with music and merriment. Yes, the Céret des Bandas stop for noone!
So exactly why was the crop late that year? Cherry-making is an extremely delicate process, say those in the know. For example, at the beginning of the season, wind plays an important role in pollination, and this season there was less wind than usual. In addition, and perhaps most significant, early spring temperatures were unusually low, delaying the unfolding of buds into blossoms.
Then there was the matter of a very dry spell followed by too much rain. And not enough sun didn’t help matters, either. Given all these variables, what is surprising is that the year’s change in dates for the festival was only the second time it has occurred in its 20-year history. (The other year? It was 2005.)
A few more details about the science and art of cherry production. More than 30 varieties of cherries are grown locally, each with its own harvest cycle. Harvesting continues on into July. Approximately 40 days typically elapse from blossom to harvest.
Once tiny green cherries begin to dot the branches of the trees, a close watch is required. The fruit near the bottom of the tree tends to ripen first. Each tree requires several pass-throughs if each cherry is to be plucked (by hand, of course) at its peak. Moreover, when a cherry turns ripe, only a three-day window is available for removing it from the tree or it will over-ripen. Cherry pickers must also be careful to remove both the fruit and its stem intact to avoid rapid spoilage. All in all, a rather exacting job.
Even as you read these words, the very first cherries of the season, called Burlat, are making their final preparations to begin turning from green to red. And within the next week or two, a very small number will be ready to pick, perhaps even on the same weekend as the original dates for the Fȇte de la Cerise. Enough perhaps to gather into a handful of small panniers and take to market to fetch a hefty first-of-the-season price. But not enough to fill the red and yellow-striped market stalls that will line the streets of Ceret for the festival, or feed the hundreds of people who gather at tables placed in one of the historic squares for the annual feast that same weekend featuring cherries in some form for each course. Still a few more weeks to go until that happens.
Don’t know about you, but as for me, just thinking about all that goes into the amazing process of cherry-making is sure to make my first cherry of the season taste all that much sweeter when I pop it into my mouth and bite down. In the meantime, please count me in to join the throngs for the Céret de Bandas.