Of all of the many, many fruits that we love in the summertime, it’s hard to find one that’s universally more satisfying that a cherry. It’s a one-bite wonder: self-contained, juicy, sweet, easy to pack, and a treat to eat. That’s probably the reason why the California Cherry Board calls May 20 through June 30 “the sweetest six months of summer.”
Of course you can buy cherries from a supermarket or a farm stand, but it’s even more fun to pick your own, which is what the Jolly Tomato family did earlier this month. For our cherry adventure, we chose Copeland’s Cherry Ranch in Leona Valley, California (owned by a friend of a friend). Leona Valley is kind of like a little cherry village in Southern California, with more than a dozen cherry orchards and plentiful you-pick opportunities. Copeland’s is a family-owned organic cherry ranch, with trees first planted in 2000 and given organic certification in 2008. The ranch features four main varieties of sweet cherries: Bing, Rainier, Utah Giant, and Tieton; as well as a handful of Benton cherries.
We had a great time sampling each of the cherries, which ranged from light and not-too-sweet (Rainier) to dark and super-sweet (Tieton). Our kids ran gleefully from tree to tree looking for the colorful tags that mark the variety of the tree. And the picking was a breeze: These trees are just the right height for both kids and adults to pick fruit with no ladder required.
Here’s one curiosity about cherry picking: The cherry orchards ask you not to pull off the cherry with the stem attached; they either want you to pick the fruit stemless or else cut off the cherry stem with special scissors. The reason is that if you pull off a whole bunch of cherries with the stems, you might pull off the “woody fruit spur,” which is at the very top of the stem. This part of the tree is essential to producing fruit year after year.
The only challenge is that once you have a bucket full of stemless cherries, you need to use them very fast. That’s when you need to put the kids to work with a cherry pitter and freeze a whole bunch if you have to. Next up on our agenda: Cherry cake, cherry pie, cherry ice cream, and lots and lots of lunchbox cherries. For a special treat, our kids love these chocolate cherry cupcakes. Do you have a favorite cherry recipe?