The Ferrovia (or Railroad) variety of cherry, grown in the area of the Puglia region around the towns of Turi and Conversano, comes to market in the month of June. It's an auspicious start to the summer season because for the cherry fan, the Ferrovia is the top of the line. Each little red fruit is packed with crunchy, juicy flavor that's hard to find elsewhere.
Not only are they tasty, these dark ruby red gems are packed with nutritional value. They are rich in flavonoids with help protect us from free radicals, and contain generous quantities of fiber, potassium, calcium, phosphorus and vitamins A and C. They are said to fight against arthritis, arteriosclerosis, kidney disorders and gout. On top of all that, they are naturally thirst-quenching and sweet, but very low in sugar content, making them the perfect guilt-free and healthy snack.
Are you wondering about their name? Why call them Railroad cherries? Tradition has it that this variety was originally cultivated along the sides of the railroad tracks on tiny bits of land. However, the truth of the matter is that these cherries were shipped to distant markets by train. Despite having to travel for weeks, this fruit always arrived at destination perfectly intact and delicious, as if it had just been freshly picked. This quality has made the Ferrovia Cherry one of Italy's most popular and, even today, production never quite meets the market demand.
Every year a “sagra” (or fair) is held in honor of the Ferrovia Cherry in Turi, the heartland of production. At the fair you can taste all kinds of declicacies concocted with this cherry as the main ingredient. Try cherry-filled almond paste sweets, cherry cakes, cherry wine . . . the list goes on! The crowning event is the election of “Miss Ferrovia Cherry,” victory to the sweetest!
Although these cherries are absolutely delicious eaten “as is,” why not try this local recipe for a pudding-like cake called “Semolina Alla Ciliegia”? Semolina is the coarse, purified wheat middlings of durum wheat used in making pasta, and also used for breakfast cereals and puddings.
Semolina Alla Ciliegia (Cherry Cake)
120 grams semolina
1 egg white, beaten to white peaks
125 grams sugar
500 grams pitted Ferrovie cherries (or other dark, firm cherries)
50 grams almonds, peeled and ground into a flour
¼ liter sweet white wine
½ liter water