National Cherry Festival Video Guide:
Our little film gives you insight into the various activities that occur in, and around, Young during the annual cherry festival. There is a full program of activities over the three days which caters to every age group. We have condensed the best bits into a 4-minute video, but if you want a story about some of our food finds, keep on reading.
There is a touch of irony about Young, given that it’s a 150-year-old town and the area is steeped in history that stretches back to close on 200 years. The area was first named Lambing Flats, owing to the lambs and sheep that dotted the region approximately 120 kilometres south west of Canberra. From the 1840s to the 1860s, the region burgeoned as gold was discovered and mined. The town of Young was gazetted in 1861.
The first cherry trees were planted in 1847 with the first orchard planted in 1878 and the rest, they say, is history. Young is the cherry capital of Australia and each year, usually during the first weekend of December, visitors from near and fear arrive into the town for the National Cherry Festival.
The first of our food experiences was at Wilders Bakery. Located on the main street, you can’t miss it. Just head for the Clock Tower on Boorowa Street and during cherry season you’ll see the crowds gathering around the front of the bakery with their cherry pies. We’re drawn to Wilders for another reason, the aromas of freshly made doughnuts rolling off the mini conveyor belt and being dunked into cinnamon sugar. The outer of the doughnut is perfectly crispy, but that gives way to a soft, pillow like centre, just perfectly cooked through. Each doughnut is a generous size but they are so easily demolished, you will have trouble stopping at just one.
After admiring and listening to the various buskers trot out their wares, then ducking over to check out immaculately presented classic cars (all of which occurs on Boorowa Street), we make our way over to Anderson Park which is the focal point of the activities for this year’s edition of the National Cherry Festival. You can’t miss Mr Pippy as he bounds about with unbridled enthusiasm!
While the contestants ready themselves to gorge on the famous Wilders cherry pie, it’s our turn sample the pie that’s made this bakery famous. Each pie is intricately laced with pastry and it covers a mound of dark red cherries in a thick jam-like sauce. A bite reveals a slightly tart flavour. To me, I expected to be overtaken by a sugary hit, but I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t too sweet at all. The pastry is very much akin to a savoury pie, where there is a nice bite to the crust, and the pastry holds the pie together really well. This one won’t crumble in your hand.
If you come to the National Cherry Festival, you can’t miss the IGA Big Breakfast on the Sunday morning. Sausages, eggs on toast, and some coffee is the perfect antidote to get over a big weekend. We felt a real sense of community as it seemed like the whole town came for breakfast. Coupled with wordsmiths and poets reciting their favourite rhymes and proses, I couldn’t think of a better way to start off a weekend morning.
With pastry, doughnuts, and bread we had definitely overdosed on the carbs! So it was time do some work, but the yummiest kind of work at this time of year – cherry picking at one of the many orchards surrounding Young. We ventured just outside Young, about a 10 minutes drive to the sleepy little village of Wombat – how cute a name is that for a town?! Wombat Heights Orchard is a pick-your-own-cherries orchard. While it’s popular, there were enough trees and cherries for everyone. The staff and workers on the farm were ultra friendly. We picked up our buckets and were guided to where the best and ripest fruit was. The anticipation was heightened as we saw families returning with buckets filled to the brim with the dark Ron’s seedling variety of cherries. For me these are the crème de la crème of cherries. They range from a dark red to almost black, a mid-season variety that are firm, yet sweet. This year’s crop was plentiful and at about $8 per kilo, represented great value. After you pay for your cherries pop over to the Grog Shed to check out the local alcoholic offerings and other region based gifts. We completed our adventure with the procurement of the Wombat Whoppa – a walnut rum liquor that packs a punch, 22% of alcoholic punch that is. It has a rich port-like flavour with nutty, earthy flavours in the background.
We could not just stop at one orchard, so onwards back towards Young we go and drop in at Ballinaclash Orchard and Cellar Door. I love the rustic nature of the Balllinaclash – the large tin shed, the old trucks that ferry you to the best cherries in the orchard, and lots of staff to help you choose a Hilltops wine, serve you a cherry pie, or fill a cup of their cherry cordial. Ballinaclash also have a variety of cherries to pick, including the darker varieties, and white cherries. Throughout November you can pick apricots as well.
The cherry pies look especially inviting and the Coco & Vine team give in and sample one last pie. Ballinclash’s pie has a much more buttery pastry, that’s crumbly, and has a beautiful golden colour to it. The cherry filling, again, aren’t super sweet which is great, but the pastry is a little sweeter than those you will find at Wilders. I think these would make the perfect pies at Christmas because they remind me of mince pies. To wash down the pie, there’s the cherry cordial. This is an instant hit! It’s refreshing for sure, bursting with cherry fruit flavour. Being a cordial concentrate the water ratio is important as it can become quite sweet, but it’s good to be a little naughty just once in a while. Bottles of the heavenly cordial are available for purchase.
With our appetites sated, it was time to hit the road back to Sydney after another year enjoying the National Cherry Festival at Young. If you do plan on visiting during the festival make sure you book your accommodation 3-4 months in advance. But if you do miss out, you can do what we did and stay in Cowra which is an easy 45-minute drive away. Harden and Cootamundra are closer options to check as well.