What do you buy as a wedding gift for a couple who have been together for 10 years and have everything they need…. a cherry tree of course!
Renting a cherry tree
For one year only we are the proud renters of a Colney cherry tree on Bentinck farm, a small, independent fruit and nut farm in Kent. The farm does all the boring bits – bug sprays and wotnot – and we just get to go and visit at the two most relevant part of a cherry tree’s cycle – the blossom and the fruit.
The trees blossomed in April and so we headed down to Kent for the day to frolic. It was an instagrammers paradise with blue skies and white flowers stretching for miles. Alright, so it wasn’t quite on the scale of the Japan blossoms – the trees were perhaps a little more squat that I was imagining – but we still had a lovely time and the pics must have been ok as our insta was ‘followed’ by lots of Japanese cherry blossom fanatics when he posted up a shot of the boys running through the trees.
The farm is just outside Tunbridge Wells and we had planned to see the blossoms, grab a bite to eat at a local eaterie and spend the weekend in our van in a quiet Kentish spot. Heads up – the outskirts of Tunbridge is not lovely or quiet in anyway. As we were late to get to the cherries, the boys lasted 20 minutes before they were starving. We couldn’t find a pub that had a parking space and ended up stuck on a horrible ring road failing to find the entrance to a Tesco for emergency stores. Eventually we picked up pre-packaged sandwiches for the grumpsters and found a nearby park for a picnic and a quick game of cricket. It was hot and overcrowded and everyone was grumpy so, after a search on various campervan forums showed that there was no good wild camp spots in the area, we packed up and headed back to the beach at Newhaven. Results of the weekend: cherries 1, Kent 0.
Bring on the berries
I was more excited about the cherries themselves than the flowers. I LOVE cherries and spend a fortune on them at the shops. I guess they are expensive because they have a short season – late June to August – and this year the weather has been so crazy it was tough to predict when the darn things would fruit. We get updates from Mark the owner and, give or take a couple of weeks, he got the dates right and we managed to keep our diary free enough to drop everything and head back to Kent.
This time we were prepared. We took a picnic with us, gave Tunbridge and it’s Tesco a wide berth and brought games to play with the kids. The weather was a scorcher and so we rigged up shade, set up chairs and settled in for the day.
The Cherry harvest
And mega it was – our Colney (and the edges of the neighbouring trees, which Mark said was fine as he leaves a tree spare between each rental in case crops are low!) yielded absolutely loads. Colneys are dark and sweet and we gorged our way through our picking session – 1 for me, 1 for the trug! The trees are low, which meant the kids could pick just as well as we could, and we ended up carting three trugs back to our picnic spot.
Full of cherries we barely touched our picnic, but It’s a lovely setting and we just lolled about for a couple of hours. Mark the owner is super chatty, sitting down to pass on top tips for how to best use a mega crop of cherries. However much you love them, you’ll be sick of eating them at some point and they won’t last long enough for you to build up another appetite!
Mark’s top tip was booze and so we stocked up on vodka and brandy and went into production. Each 1 litre vodka bottle needed twenty five cherries. The suggestion for the brandy was to cram in as many cherries into a kilner jar as you possibly could, then pour brandy over to fill the gaps. We ended up with 7 bottles of vodka and 2 jars of brandy. The vodka will be ready in a month – still good for summer boozing – and the cherries will be perfect for Christmas.
Grandma’s top tip was a cherry clafoutis, which looks gorgeous. Based on my cooking skills though, I think we should leave the baking for her and the bottles to me – with those handmade labels I think Chimps Cherry Vodka might be a good contender for the next Sussex Food and Drink awards – we’ll keep you posted!
How to rent your own tree
Bentinck Farm’s website makes it all very easy. You purchase rental on their website for a single season (March to October). You will get a certificate showing the type of tree and the individual number. As mentioned, Mark emails to let you know when the blossom and the harvest are and will give more specific dates as they become apparent. The farm does all the management alongside their commercial trees, so your tree gets a high standard of treatment. They “aim to provide a memorable and enjoyable experience which brings people closer to the way their food is produced, and the ability to see exactly where it comes from.” and I would say that they achieve this. Thanks Mark!