There’s been a little bit of panic locally about the sour cherry crop this year. Admittedly that panic has been located only in my immediate vicinity.
A combination of that premature Spring we had in February and March followed by late frosts devastated the sour cherry crop in most of the nation. By “most of the nation” I mean “Michigan” which produces 70-75 percent of the US tart cherry crop. On an average year that’s about 200 million pounds. This year the crop is projected to be 2 million pounds. One percent. This year they will have to import cherries from Poland for their annual cherry festival. The Cornell Cooperative Extension’s predictions of the New York crop used such terms as “crop failure” and “decimation.”
By mid-May, I was quietly hysterical. By late May, I was phone-stalking local cherry farmers.
Over the winter, while keeping company with more meat than advisable, I decided this would be the July that I would make 50 pies in three weeks. Best. Laid. Plans. Talking to the Union Square farmers in May, I figured I’d be lucky to get enough cherries for a couple pies. And the crop was a month early, yikes! Then one of the farmers called me last week to say she didn’t have enough sours to justify bringing any to market. I was despondent. That’s when the magical words “pick-your-own” were mumbled by a magical fairy.
Bright, but not-so-early Saturday, Joan drove me 60 miles to the only pick-your-own orchard with sour cherries that I could find on the internet. First we ate hotdogs, then I asked one of the farmers where the sour cherries were. That is how we found ourselves (Joan, Sophie and myself) riding a golf cart up the hill to the pond then over several hills of apples and peaches to where the small stand of tart cherries lived.
There, the three of us did battle with an aggressively territorial, thoroughly ensconced Russian couple for the only sour cherries left on Earth.
“Hi! What do you make with them?” I asked in my chirpiest voice.
“Purrrrrsurrrrrfzz,” she answered dourly.
Then she said something to her husband that I could only assume to be “Kneecap them if they get near my trees.”
We returned the next morning to get the almost ripe fruit they had left behind. That day, I climbed a wooden tripod ladder to the top and surveyed the beautiful Hudson Valley while filling my bucket. I also pacified a cherry-crazed, but friendly Hungarian woman. She told me about going to Traverse City to the National Cherry Festival. I even extracted a recipe for cold cherry soup from her. By nightfall, I returned to Harlem with 35 lbs of tart cherries. That’s about 15 pies.
Now for the baking.