Saturday, July 20, 2013

Farm Bulletin: Life's A Bowl of…Sour Cherries? Pt. 1

Fruit season is in full swing in the Northwest, and contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm takes the opportunity to elucidate the matter of cherries. In Part Two he takes on the much-maligned prune.

Sour Cherries

Among these cherries, there are varieties with dark juice, generally classified as Morellos, and varieties with clear juice, classified as Amarelles. We grow the Amarelle called Montmorency. Equally satisfying, but a distinct flavor from the dark-juiced Hungarians. In our preserves, we also include about 15% English Morello with its pleasing bitterness, along with Montmorency and the Hungarians.

The Amarelle cherries are particularly popular in France and England, as well as the United States. The Traverse City area in Michigan and Oregon's Willamette Valley are the two important American tart cherry regions. It is commonly asserted that Montmorency cherries are too sour to eat out hand. That is largely a matter of growers picking them when they are still on the acidic side of ripening. Though they have a tannic edge, the cherries this week are running over 16° BRIX, which higher than any of the cane fruit. 

One of the benefits of growing sour cherries is the fact that birds have a tough time pulling them off the tree. Moreover, the limbs are so willowy they cannot peck away at the fruit as they do with Prunus avium, bird (sweet) cherries. Robins, starlings and orioles like them but only as an occasional treat; they soon tire of the task and go back to eating insects. So they are an avian dessert, rather than a main course.

The spotted-winged drosophila or vinegar fly thrives on Montmorency cherries so we have to be careful harvesting the fruit. We have been working with staff on harvesting so we avoid the cherries with larvae. If you all run into a larva, and it is likely, the only thing we can say is that it is natural verification of our gentle approach towards other creatures on the farm. For the most part, the spiders in the orchard, along with the dragon flies, keep the vinegar fly populations at bay. And our restraint keeps the native bee populations and other interesting insect populations robust because we don't use neonicotinoids and the rest of the arsenal of insecticides recommended for control of the fruit fly. The neonicotinoids are particularly nasty because they are generally applied to the soil and are absorbed into the plant tissues. The fruit is never sprayed, allowing for a plausible "no spray" claim. Many of our native bees are ground nesters, so they get it coming and going. An occasional fruit fly larva among the cherries means there is a bumble bee larva also developing safely underneath the tree.

* * *

We made our deliveries Friday and walked into a restaurant with the wrong invoice. When the staff saw it was for Lovely's 50/50 [on N Mississippi], they regaled us with how delicious Sarah [Minnick]'s tart cherry ice cream is and how she uses the cherry pits to flavor it, giving it hint of bitter almond essence. The next stop was at Lovely's, and Sarah's mother greeted us with a tub of the ice cream. The ice cream is made from the Balatons. The next batch will use the Montmorency cherries. If you are in Mississippi area, more specifically 4039 N Mississippi Avenue, stop in and try the Balaton cherry ice cream. It is worth a trek across town. Then return to try the Montmorency flavor when that's ready.

Top photo from the Agricultural Research Service, the research agency of the United States Department of Agriculture.

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