Cherry harvest is underway and in celebration of that tasty fact Traverse City once again hosts the National Cherry Festival. Cherries are definitely great to eat and a great reason to celebrate. It is noteworthy that although Michigan grows several varieties of cherries, no area of the world produces more red tart cherries and ranks fourth in the nation in production of sweet cherries.
In honor of this years harvest and Michigan’s vital and growing cherry industry, we present this special feature from Taste the Local Difference by Janice Benson.
Cherries are taking center stage here in northwest Michigan. The Cherry Festival is in full swing, bright, beaming berries have arrived at roadside stands, and the orchards are filled with families visiting u-pick farms. Cherry time is our busiest season, but it is also our foremost of seasons, when our beloved sweetheart of the orchards is in full glory. There’s no time like summertime here in Michigan, and there’s nothing like northwest Michigan cherries!
Quick Cherry Facts
- Tart cherries pack a health promoting punch. Ongoing research shows that tart cherries are a natural source of antioxidants.
- Cherries are a versatile ingredient. They add color, flavor and nutrition to salads, breads, side dishes, main courses and breakfast items.
- Cherries have no fat and are low in sodium and calories.
- Michigan is the leading producer of tart cherries, producing 70 to 75 percent of the crop each year. The amount of tart cherries produced each year varies, depending on a number of factors, including the age of the trees and weather conditions. Generally, Michigan produces 200 to 250 million pounds of tart cherries; the U.S. crop is 275 to 350 million pounds.
- The major variety of tart cherry grown in the U.S. is the Montmorency. It has been cultivated in the U.S. for more than a century because the fruit is excellent for pies, preserves, jellies, juice and other products. A new cherry variety, called Balaton (named for a lake in its native Hungary), recently made it’s commercial debut in Michigan. (see recipes below)
- Tart cherries, which are sometimes called pie cherries or sour cherries, are seldom sold fresh; they generally are canned or frozen shortly after harvesting for use in products throughout the year.
- It takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie; enough cherries grow on the average cherry tree to make 28 pies, industry officials say.
- Although a cherry tree can grow almost anywhere, the quantity and quality of its fruit depend on specific climatic conditions. For example, in Michigan, the orchards are concentrated along Lake Michigan, where the lake tempers the winter winds and cools the orchards in summer.
- Both tart and sweet cherries ripen in July; the third week of July is usually the peak of the harvest.
- There are about 7,000 cherries on an average tart cherry tree (the number varies depending on the age of the tree, weather and growing conditions), and it takes about 250 cherries to make a cherry pie, so each tree potentially could produce enough cherries for 28 pies.
- The average U.S. citizen consumes about one pound of tart cherries per year. That is more than 260 million pounds per year.
- Some of the sweet cherry varieties grown in Michigan are: Emperor, Napoleon, Francis, Schmidt.
- The same chemicals that give tart cherries their color may relieve pain better than aspirin and ibuprofen.
- Cherries were brought to America by early settlers in the 1600s. Cherry trees, in fact, were part of the gardens of French settlers when they established Detroit.
- Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian missionary on Old Mission Peninsula north of Traverse City, started modern-day cherry production in Michigan in 1852.
Via Chef Eric Villegas from ForkintheRoad.com, we bring you a couple of interesting recipes using the Balaton cherry (link has info on ordering this “new” varietal). Fork in the Road is a national televised food show that celebrates the diverse food heritage of the Great Lakes region.
Balaton Cherry Mojo
This sauce is great hot or cold on poultry, waterfowl, pork and veal
Makes about 1 ½ cups
1 cup fresh or frozen balaton cherries
1 cup leelenau red wine
1 tbsp extra virgin cold pressed olive oil
½ cup thinly sliced shallots
1 smoked jalapeno, seeded and chopped
1 heaping tbsp wood roasted garlic (see recipe)
¼ cup raw apple cider vinegar
2 cups chicken stock
1 tbsp chopped flat leaf parsley
Clancy’s Fancy hot sauce or similar to taste
1-2 tbsps evcp olive oil, optional
In a medium sized saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon of oil over medium high heat. When the oil has begun to smoke, add the shallots, jalapeno and garlic. Cook for five minutes then deglaze with cider vinegar, chicken stock and red wine. Cook for three minutes then add the cherries. Cook for 20-30 minutes or until the mixture has reduced 50 to 70 percent and/or thickened to a nice sauce like consistency. Add the parsley. Season with salt, pepper and hot sauce. At this point you can add the optional olive oil for a richer flavor. Use as needed.
Balaton Cherries Jubilee
The great French chef Auguste Escoffier has been held responsible for creating Cherries Jubilee in honor of Queen Victoria. Here’s Eric’s version with the “new” Balaton cherryâ€¦
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter
1 lb fresh Balaton cherries, pitted
1/4 cup Michigan maple sugar, or less to taste
1/4 cup cherry brandy like Blackstar Farms’ “spirit of cherry” or comparable
2-4 scoops vanilla ice cream, see recipe
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 tablespoon cold water
In a large skillet, melt butter over medium heat. Add sugar and cherries and stir to combine. Cook until cherries are tender and sugar dissolves, about 4 or 5 minutes.
0ptional thickner: if using
In a small cup, stir the cornstarch and water together, for a slurry. Stir the slurry into the cherry mixture and cook for 1 minute.
Remove skillet from heat. Add brandy and carefully ignite. When flame is extinguished, serve immediately over fresh vanilla ice cream.
serves 2 -4
The 35th Annual International Cherry Pit-Spitting Championship results are in. Brian “Young Gun” Krause wins with a spit of 56′ 7 1/2″. Get the latest news here – International Pit-Spit.
NPR recognizes Northern Michigan as a leading Cherry grower. Sour Cherries: A Tart, Tasty Michigan Treat.
Visit the Cherry Marketing Institute to read all about their benefits to your health.
Also see Absolute Michigan keyword “Cherries”