by Jennifer Meehan
Last call for Cherries! You’ve probably been seeing these delicious little red fruits all over the farmers markets for the past couple of months, but if you haven’t taken some home yet next week just might be your last chance.
Sweet cherries are the season’s first tree fruit to ripen, while the tart variety is harvested a few weeks later. Red Jacket Orchards, which sells at just about every Greenmarket in the city, had so many cherries at Smorgasburg recently they started a deal offering $1 off a jar of applesauce if you bought one pound of their cherries. The deal may have gotten me to run over to their stand, but I stayed focused, grabbing a few handfuls of cherries while ignoring the applesauce, for now.
Red Jacket Orchards is a family-owned farm located in Geneva, in the Finger Lakes Region of New York about 4.5 hours northwest of New York City. Due to the farm’s distance from the city — and the fact that they have 600 acres of farmland which need tending daily — the farmers themselves rarely make it down to the markets. Luckily, after chatting with the Greenmarket stand staff, I was put in touch with Mike Biltonen, Red Jacket’s Vice President of Farm Operations.
Mike was exposed to farm life early — his grandparents had a 600-acre farm in southeast Kansas — but he didn’t start working on a farm himself until college. After moving to the Finger Lakes region in pursuit of a Masters in Pomology (the study of fruit), Mike moved to the Hudson Valley, where he operated his own orchard for 10 years before joining Red Jacket Orchards.
Mike loves cherries because of their ephemeral nature and the fact that they signal the true beginning of the fruit season!
While cherries are no easier to grow than other crops, they only have to be tended to during their three month-long season each year. Once a cherry tree is planted, it takes two to three years to mature to the point of bearing fruit, which it will continue to do for anywhere from 20 to 25 years. The main danger to the crop is brown rot, a disease the farmers are on guard for each season.
When I asked Mike about his favorite way to eat cherries, he said, “Pick ‘em and pop ‘em in my mouth. I am pretty basic when it comes to enjoying fruit. The plain, simple, natural taste of a fresh picked cherry is second-to-none (until the next fruit comes on that is)!” I completely agree! But if you’d like to get a bit more adventurous with your cherries, here are a few suggestions…
Radish in Williamsburg is using cherries for one of their homemade seasonal sodas. They first cook up a syrup by muddling sugar and cherries in a ratio of 1 cup of sugar to each pound of cherries. They then add about 3/4 of a cup of hot water to the syrup, stirring occasionaly while it cools, then covering and chilling in the fridge. To make the soda, they simply add sparkling water or seltzer to taste.
These are some sweet & savory cherry recipes you can try on your own: