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Expat Adventures: Cherry on Top! Exploring the German Kirsche

Updated: Jan 11

In 2015, I moved to a small mountain village in the Black Forest of Germany. An eco-psychologist, I dove into acquainting myself with my new local environment, plants, food, and culture. I have developed a love for the fresh local produce, and new growing zone exposing me to multiple new crops. One of my particular favorites are German cherries. Let’s explore this wonderfully tasty, healthy, local treat!


Cherries shine in various shades of red. Expat Adventures: Cherry on Top! Exploring the German Kirsche
Expat Adventures: Cherry on Top! Exploring the German Kirsche

Exploring the German Kirsche - Cherry

Cherries are a popular seasonal food in Germany. The traditional harvest season is early summer- June/July as the temperatures grow. Germany exports less than 10 percent of its total cherry supply (Lieberz, 2020), meaning most Germans are chomping on their local fruit! Processing of cherries into dried fruit is not common in Germany and the small but growing demand for dried cherries is usually met with imports.


In 2021, Baden-Württemburg, our state, which is responsible for almost half (45.8%) of all German cherry production, saw extreme weather such as late frosts, heavy rains and disastrous windstorms, cripple cherry production by over a quarter (Das, 2021). Local farmers, called it one of the worst frost related losses ever recorded, with also beets, and vineyards taking heavy losses. Personally, we weren’t able to collect any harvest from our sweet cherry trees in our small family orchard; however, our 2022 harvest was a great success! According to the Federal Statistical Office, a harvest of around 17,100 tons is expected this year, which would be a good 4,400 tons more than in 2021 (SWR, 2022).


A cherry tree with white blossoms in the lower left hand corner paints the foreground. The background is soft sunrise lighting of the mountains of the Black Forest with wispy clouds and dawn breaking on the mountain peaks. SEELEDU
Cherry Blossoms in the Schwarzwald, Black Forest of Baden-Württemberg

Cherry on Top! The German Cherries

Germany has two main types of Cherry. The sweet cherry and the sour cherry, or Sauerkirsche.

The Sauerkirsche (Prunus cerasus) is a special particularly tart-sweet cherry typically used in cakes, juice, and other desserts.


Kirsche: sweet cherry

Sweet cherries are typically dark red to a purple black color and grow vigorously. Sweet cherries are sensitive to weather during the flowering and ripening stage, after which they burst or rot (Roschach, 2000). Popular varieties include: Regina, Burlat, Summit, and Büttners Rote Knorpelkirsche which is a variety over 200 years old!


Sauerkirsche: Sour cherry

The main varieties of sour cherries are the Glas-Kirsche, glass cherry, and the Strauchweichsel also known as the Schattenmorelle or morello cherry. While the sweet cherry is susceptible to inclement weather while flowering, the sour morello cherry is susceptible to the Monilia peak drought (Monilia-Spitzendürre). This is a fruit tree disease that begins shortly after flowering and causes shoot tips and flowering bushes to wilt and eventually die (T-online, 2016).

Vogelkirsche: wild cherry

The bird, forest or wild cherry ( Prunus avium ) is one of the rare tree species and often grows on the edges of forests. In spring, the bird cherry stands out impressively from the rest of the forest with its snow-white blossoms. The parent species of our sweet cherry, it has valuable wood, is a powerful local pollinator offering bees and birds plenty of food, and cares for the forest floor, as the leaves decompose quickly (Waldwissen, 2021). Ecologically, local forestry even puts weight on the cherry trees as a good economic and ecological alternative to coppice areas (Suchant, 1995), so it is not surprising that the wild cherry received the Tree of the Year award in 2010!


White and pink cherry blossoms are showcased in an orchard with a soft sky and green grass
Cherry Blossoms Bloom in the Orchard


Exploring the German Kirsche: Cherries in culture


The three most popular forms of cherry consumption in Germany are: snacking, baking, and schnapps!


In early summer, we add fresh cherries to our Vesper Teller. Vesper is a small usually cold meal consisting of various meats like Wurst, and cheeses, to fresh and pickled vegetables, local honey and fruit. It’s like a German version of a charcuterie board, and don’t forget the fresh Weckle or bread.


Cherries are also a beloved ingredient in baking, none more famous than the Schwarzwälder Kirsch Torte, or Black Forest Cake. Made with layers of sour cherries soaked in Kirschwasser, or cherry schnapps, this cake is not only beautiful and delicious but packs a punch!


Which brings us into our third most popular use of cherries: Kirschwasser! Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser, or black forest cherry schnapps/brandy, is a beloved local tradition and available year round. Kirschwasser is considered a brandy because it is distilled from fermented fruit mash without the addition of sugar. No other fruit brandy has such a variety of flavor nuances as Black Forest kirsch (Schmeck den Süden, 2022).

A woven basket contains clear glass bottles of various sizes of Schwarzwald Schnapps or black forest fruit brandy's
An assortment of Schwarzwald Schnapps

The longer the cherries hang on the tree, the more aromatic and sweet they are when they are harvested - this benefits the content of Kirschwasser. The soil and the altitude of the Black Forest also play a decisive role in the quality of the cherries. Mountain cherries develop a more intense flavor than the faster-growing varieties on the plains (Roschach, 2000). Immediately after the harvest, the cherries go into the mash barrel, where they ferment for a maximum of four weeks. The bitter almond tone develops in the course of the fermentation process from a small proportion of crushed cherry stones. Black Forest kirsch is particularly popular as an aperitif after rich meals and you can always hear one of our family members asking for a “Schnapps” after a rich family dinner.


Want to explore more about German cherries? Join us on our second story in this cherry series where we examine the health and wellness benefits of cherries!

Part 2: Health & Wellness: Cherry on top- Exploring the German Kirsche

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References:

Das, D. (2021). Cherry Harvest Declines In Germany In 2021: Destatis. European Supermarket Magazine. https://www.esmmagazine.com/fresh-produce/cherry-harvest-declines-germany-2021-destatis-147400


Lieberz, S. (2020). Overview on the German Cherry Sector 2020. United States Department of Agriculture Foreign Agricultural Service. Global Agricultural Information Network. https://apps.fas.usda.gov/newgainapi/api/Report/DownloadReportByFileName?fileName=Overview%20on%20the%20German%20Cherry%20Sector%202020_Berlin_Germany_07-16-2020


Rorschach, H. (2000). Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser. Schwarzwald-Verlag, Offenb. ISBN Nr. 3-922-663-605

Schmeck den Süden. (2022). Schwarzwälder Kirschwasser. https://www.schmeck-den-sueden.de/spezialitaet/schwarzwalder-kirschwasser/


Suchant, R. & Nain, W. (1995): Der Kirschen - Mittelwald ökonomische und ökologische Alternative für den Niederwald. Allgemeine Forst und Jagdzeitung. 167(7): S. 139-148.



T-online. (2016). Monilia-Spitzendürre befällt beliebte Obstbäume. https://www.t-online.de/heim-garten/garten/id_77527526/monilia-spitzenduerre-monilia-laxa-erkennen-und-bekaempfen.html

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