At the Farm

The Life of a Cherry Grower

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Posted July 13th, 2012 in At the Farm, News in Produce, Posts

Photo by Mark Harrison/The Seattle Times. Francisco Lopez picks cherries recently at Hayden Farms in Eltopia, Franklin County, where pickers are told to gently lay, not drop, the tender fruit in a bucket to avoid bruising.

Life is not always a bowl of cherries if you are a cherry grower.  This past spring an unusual set of weather conditions all but wiped out the Red Tart Cherry crop in the Midwest.  The majority of the world’s tart cherries are grown in this region around Traverse City, Michigan.  A secondary growing area in upstate New York and Pennsylvania was affected by the same weather.  The growers and packers in this part of the country are devastated.  You can read more about the crop failure here. The cherries grown here are the traditional Cherry pie cherry. The variety is called Montmorency and they have had quite a run lately with the discovery of their fantastic health properties.  They are a natural anti-inflammatory, antioxidant and contain melatonin for sleep.   Just as importantly they are delicious and a favorite for making lots of things in addition to pie: smoothies, quick bread, tarts and just topping Greek Yogurt adding a bit of honey for a healthy breakfast.

A similar weather phenomenon took place exactly ten years ago and here at Oregon Fruit we were faced with a serious challenge; How to supply our customers with our #1 product?  A decade ago, we found a similar tasting cherry variety grown in Poland. Although we are committed to growing and packing right here in America, we also believe in American ingenuity when it comes to making our customers happy. So we bought the Polish cherries and sold them to our customers and most everyone was satisfied.  This variety is a much deeper red than our US grown varieties, more like a fine Cabernet.  The taste is similar, though. Just the right amount of tart.

We didn’t expect to find ourselves in this situation again for another 40 years but here we are.  We have bought up all the tart cherries we can find both is the US and internationally. The prices are  high due to the limited supply but we think it will be worth it to our loyal and dedicated customers to be able to make their favorite recipes even in this rough year. Some things are just worth paying more for.

In the Northwest some of the most delicious dark sweet cherries are grown.  The growing season is short and I personally look forward to eating my weight in cherries during the fresh season.  According to the Linda Mapes of the Seattle Times “So tricky to grow, such a delectable summer treat: Washington cherry growers take another spin in the cherry casino, as they bring in the state’s most high-risk crop”.  I love the description of this grower,” Denny Hayden is packing heat: a Bluetooth in one ear, cell phone holstered on his hip — and rosary beads and holy medals in his jeans pocket.

“And if that doesn’t do it, I’ve got Tums and Excedrin,” Hayden said. “And a prayer book. And if all that fails, I have whiskey.”  The article goes on to say “For while cherry growers produce one of the state’s most valuable crops per acre, theirs also is a high-stakes harvest, a gamble in the cherry casino where an entire season’s painstaking labor — and investment — can be lost in a passing storm.”  You can read more about the harvest in Washington here.

The crop in the Northwest is coming in but it has not been without weather related trouble. However the fruit looks beautiful and the crop is large so the Washington growers will not be experiencing the pain of their Midwest compatriots at least this year.   Thanks to the efforts of these growers passionate about the fruit they harvest we will have a great canning season this year at Oregon Fruit and you will find these big, bold and beautiful treats on grocers shelves long after the fresh season is over.


Blogger Berry Fest!

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Posted August 5th, 2011 in At the Farm, News, News in Produce, Posts

Last weekend on the end of our vacation, Kaitlin and I flew into Portland for the Oregon Berry Festival.  Two of our favorite bloggers, Leela Ross from The Kitchn and Kimberly Morales from Poor Girl Eats Well  joined us for the festivies.   Leela and Kimberly had already spent the day on Friday with Oregon Fruit Folks touring a local farm with Phil our field man and then the cannery with Bryan Brown.  Leela has some great pictures of their day posted on her blog.  I think Kimberly will be talking about it this weekend as well.


The first ever Oregon Berry Festival was a great event put on the Oregon Berry Commission at the Ecotrust Building in the Pearl District of downtown Portland.  Kaitlin and I took over the booth from John Doyle and Thea and we were immediately slammed!  We sampled Berry UP! with lemonade until we ran out and handed out lovely mini blueberry tarts made by Oregon Fruit’s  own Ashley Nasbe. Both items were a huge hit.

Lots of folks had the chance to try fresh berries outside, then came in to the trade show area to sample products made from local fruit.  People seemed pleasantly surprised at how easy the tarts were to make with Oregon Fruit Blueberries.  We finally got a chance to look around after we ran out of everything and we got to sample some things.  The highlight for both of us was a Meyer Lemon sorbet with huckleberries!

In the evening, we had the pleasure of attending the Gala Dinner at the Heathman Restaurant and Bar and what a dinner it was!

Chef Phillippe Boulout and Chef Michael Stanton prepared a 5 course extravaganza with Oregon berries represented for each course. We began with Blackberry Martinis and a Blackberry Foie gras crostini. 

The salad course consisted of mixed greens, local goat cheese and fresh Oregon Strawberries-some of the sweetest most flavorful strawberries on earth.  The fish course featured Chinook Salmon with a red raspberry reduction.  This was followed by an Anderson Ranch Lamb Chop (and you already know how much I love lamb) with a lovely cranberry jus from the Vincent Family Farm.  Kaitlin is not a lamb lover even though she is one quarter Greek but she loved this lamb!  The next course was Oregon Bison Au Poivre with Marionberry salad. I have never had Bison before and it was delicious and tender. 

The grand finale was a Berry Trifle like none I have ever eaten.  It was HUGE and no one thought they would be able to finish it but some of us were licking the glass when it was done (I’m not mentioning any names here!). All the berries were included: Blueberry, blackberry, strawberry, marionberry, raspberry with biscuits adn creme chibouste. 

The only thing that surpassed the food at this dinner was the company.  I felt quite honored to be able to hang around with two ladies that are as passionate about food as I am.

You Say Cobbler, I Say Crumble…

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Posted September 11th, 2010 in At the Farm, In the Kitchen, Posts

The first time I tasted a “Northwest Cobbler” I was visiting my cousins, Lee and Fritz in Kingston, Washington. They live in a picture perfect setting remote enough that Fritz’s directions went something like “turn right at the first tree after the left turn”.  I am sure that isn’t right and even though he maintains his directions were perfect I was pretty lost for a while.  Their home sits up on a hill with a forest surrounding, a view of a pond and then the harbor and finally the Olympic Mountains in the distance from the expansive deck.  In the summer it stays light until 10pm.  When the weather is warm in the Seattle area I am convinced there is no lovelier place on earth.  In the morning we went to pick blackberries along the path that leads from the front door.  My daughters were small then and the vision of them in their cute little sundresses carrying pails and putting more in their mouth’s than in the buckets is etched in my mind forever.  Blackberries have some serious thorns but miraculously on that day, no one was injured. 

We returned with a bounty of blackberries and Lee set out to make a “Northwest Cobbler”. Now some of you might think of this as a crumble or a crisp with the topping of brown sugar, oatmeal and butter.  However it is so delicious I am not sure it matters.   It is also incredibly easy, so easy that my daughters were able to fully participate and it was at that moment that I saw clearly what a bonding experience cooking is.  I highly recommend introducing your kids to cooking as early as possible.  It creates fantastic memories, teaches math and science skills and is an incredible way to pass along culture and tradition.  Since everyone is not lucky enough to have a path to a blackberry patch in their front yard, I have modified the recipe so that even we suburban moms can bring that taste home any time of the year.  And as a bonus, NO THORNS!

Farmer’s Market Day

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Posted July 15th, 2010 in At the Farm, News in Produce

I have been reading about a big Farmer’s Market in downtown Sacramento where the local restaurants go on Sundays to buy their weekly produce. Last weekend I made the trek and it was an incredible experience. The first thing I noticed was the aroma of freshness everywhere: basil, peaches, berries, peppers, all blended together into a delightful perfume. The second thing I noticed was how much more prepared my fellow shoppers were than I was. I had my small market bag; everyone was pushing wheeling shopping carts.  In no time I was heavily laden with my finds-8 ears of corn, a dozen peaches, an assortment of peppers to make the salsa I will be posting tomorrow and a variety of summer squash in an array of colors. 


I had to make a trip back to the car to unload so I could go for another round.  I never even thought about how I was going to consume all these treasures in one week.  My kids are grown now, I live by myself.  My daughter Kaitlin is home for several weeks this summer and we are having fun cooking healthy so at least I would have some help.  As I strolled some more and bought some more I started to devise a plan to cook for some of my friends and began to get a bit more strategic as I formulated a menu.  I even picked up a bouquet of some assorted blue hydrangeas for the table and a bit of local goat cheese for an appetizer. 


 This place was amazing, the assortment was vast, the vendors were jovial, the prices were really good and everything was fresh and ripe.  No rock hard, grocery store fruit from foreign countries-this was all grown a short drive from the market.  The next day when my friends arrived my friend Dana brought about 10 pounds of apricots from her tree to share with our friends.  All the apricots on a tree ripen within a couple of days and you have to use them fast.  My friend Michele had delivered an enormous bag of fresh figs the week before.  All this bounty drove home for me why our grandparents had been canners.  There was simply no way to eat all this fantastic produce immediately so there had to be a way to keep it for the months that aren’t so bountiful.  I made a few jars of fig jam for my dad and will probably do the same with some of the apricots.  It was much easier than I thought and so delicious. I will definitely go back to this Farmer’s Market but first I am going to buy a wheelie cart.

Sweet Tarts for Every Taste

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Posted July 10th, 2010 in At the Farm, Healthy Tips, In the Kitchen

I love the artistry of a fancy bakery case.  I am in awe of a pastry chef.  The delicacy of the pastry makes the whole process tricky. Sometimes pie crust turns out, some times it doesn’t and there never seems to be a reason one way or the other. But when it does it seems to be magical.  Last weekend was one of those times.  My daughters came over to help which always adds to the whole family feel of the kitchen for me.  Mario was at the ready with the camera just waiting for us to give him the green light to photograph our masterpieces. 

We decided to make a variety, just like our own pastry case.  I had been to the farmer’s market the day before and bought some of the loveliest peaches of the season. The fragrance was like perfume!  I ate one immediately and the juice just ran down my arm. That is when you know you have a peach the way it was intended.  Of course, one tart had to be peach.  I though adding blackberries to the peaches would add texture and color. The fruit was so delicious that we didn’t need a lot to dress that up-flaky pastry, perfect fruit and fancy whipped cream all piped on top with my decorator dessert pro.  Having the right tools is the key to making the cooking process fun and successful. 

We made another tart just filling the baked single crust with Nutella and topped with raspberry sauce. Have you ever tried Nutella???  It is an ingredient that was probably just sent straight down from Heaven already made.  Its hazelnut and chocolate and as smooth as silk.  It comes in a jar like peanut butter, but make no mistake; this is not ANYTHING like peanut butter.   A simple and elegant dessert, just topped (AGAIN) with a rosette of whipped cream and you are pastry chef in your own mind. 

Lastly we tried to make a tart that was a little bit healthy. The key to a healthy dessert is it still has to be decadent or really, what’s the point?  I have been experimenting with different flours lately so I picked up some Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat Pastry Flour.  This product is fabulous! The recipe on the bag was fantastic; the crust came out flaky with a delicious taste and texture. Sometimes whole wheat flour has this dense and gritty texture that does not translate to dessert but this was an exception. We made an almond cremolata.  Using almond milk, a little sugar thickened with egg yolk and a bit of corn starch this made creamy custard with real flavor depth dairy free with very little fat.  Topped simply with a couple of spoonfuls of drained blueberries.  Delicious and decadent with fiber and protein but don’t tell anyone about that. It will be our little secret.

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