I was fascinated to learn that South Africa is home to the 'Cherry Capital of the World' - Ficksburg. I also found it a bit strange that we have the world's best cherries right on our doorstep. As, from bitter first-hand experience, I had always thought the idea of a 'sweet-tasting' cherry was just a myth. After that day in class, I knew that someday I had to attend the festival, as this was a myth I had to dispel myself.
Ficksburg is a small town in the Eastern Free State, situated at the foot of the Imperani Mountain, bordering the neighbouring country of Lesotho. I travelled for 6 hours over 400km, through 3 provinces and 5 painstakingly long road stops to get there. The country's oldest annual crop festival runs over 3 days during the third week of November, and is attended by over 25 000 people. I was thrilled to finally be one of them this year.
One of the highlights of the festival was visiting a cherry farm and going on a tour of the orchards. A tractor pulled us along through the scenic Ionia farm, where one of the farmers explained the entire cherry harvesting process to us - from root to pip. We were left to wander the extensive orchard and pick our own punnet of cherries directly from the tree. We ate cherries to our hearts content (and our tummy's detriment). What most people don't know is that the sweetest cherries you can find are the 'yellow cherries', which are not usually sold to the public. They look like a normal red cherry on the outside, but are a light yellow colour on the inside...and taste like a piece of heaven. Cherries are a rare and expensive fruit and most of them from this region are exported to the rest of the world.
The cherry frenzied festival grounds were abuzz with activities ranging from cooking workshops, game shows, sporting events, a beauty pageant, jazz and rock concerts and a cherry pip spitting competition (which we thankfully missed!). Any cherry-related product you can dream up - they sold it there. Cherry jams, syrups, drinks, cherry liquors, schnapps, cherry chutney, nougat, cherry pie and preserves. Besides for the perishables, there was cherry art to take back home as a souvenir. I was attracted by the pretty pink and red cherry blossom beauty products. Delectably scented perfumes, body butters, foam baths and soaps, all reminding me of my childhood cherry chapstick.
With Ficksburg being so far out in the middle of the country, I don't know whether I'll ever get an opportunity to attend the festival again. It's one of those things that you should do at least once in your life if you're living in South Africa. As you can imagine, I came home with a boot load of cherries - not that they lasted very long. These little red jewels are a rich part of our local heritage, and I hope that more people will become aware of it and also get to experience the joy of picking their own cherries.
*All photos taken by me.