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.