Last Chance Foods: A Fleeting Season for Local Cherries
Friday, July 05, 2013
They descend like locusts and can decimate an entire cherry crop in just one weekend, said Gekee Wickham of Wickham’s Fruit Farm in Cutchogue, Long Island. She wasn’t referring to insects, though, but the hordes of cherry fans that come for the pick-your-own season.
Cherries at Wickham’s farm on the North Fork of Long Island were still growing just a week ago, but by July 4, the cherry season was closed. “We can have one strong weekend, and [the crop] can disappear in the blink of an eye,” said Wickham.
For those looking for one last chance to pick cherries, this weekend will likely be the end of the season for upstate farms. In Hudson, N.Y., the crop at Fix Brothers Fruit Farm will last until Saturday, though no guarantees were made about Sunday. Cherry Ridge Farm, also in Hudson, begins its pick-your-own cherry season on Saturday. There are also cherries still available this weekend at Lawrence Farm Orchards in Newburgh, N.Y.
“There’s some niche [fans] for niche cherries,” said Thomas Wickham of the customers at Wickham’s Fruit Farm. “A lot of people from Central Asia—like Afghanis, Persians, Iranians—are very attracted to the tart cherry. In fact, they’ll come out and virtually picnic under the trees.”
Sweet cherries, which are more commonly eaten out of hand, are larger, firmer, and, of course, sweeter.
“The tart cherries actually have more flavor,” said Wickham. “They’re a little softer, they’re usually not as big. They’re used for all kinds of confections and cooking and baking and all of that.” Some of his customers eat the tart cherries with just a sprinkling of salt.
While the popularity of the fruit can make it hard to find, cherries in the Northeast also have a particularly short season. “Most of the varieties that do well here tend to be the early- and mid-season varieties, so that tends to abbreviate the season,” said Wickham.
Added to the short season, Wickham said about once every three years, he’ll lose the crop entirely due to one of two weather conditions. The first hurdle to cross is pollination during the late spring.
“If you have rain and wind during [pollination] time, there [is] no bee activity and there’s essentially, no crop,” he said. “You have a beautiful tree, lots of flowers, and leaves later, but hardly any cherries. That’s a real bummer, and there’s nothing you can do about it afterward.”
(Photo: Cherries from Wickham's Fruit Farm/Thomas Wickham)
The second challenge comes during the cherries’ ripening time. “All you need is a heavy rain, and the cherries will just grow so fast, with a soft skin, they’ll split,” he said. “They’ll just explode. And as a result, they’re all just trash. You just can’t sell them. And one year in three, we get those kinds of rains and have virtually no salable product.”
Fortunately, this year’s crop avoided both fates, and the swarms of customers at Wickham’s could get their fill of the fruit. For any latecomers to the cherry season, this weekend will likely be the last for local cherries, so now’s the time to head upstate and enjoy one of the season’s most fleeting treats.
Below, try a recipe for cherry clafouti and sweet cherry sauce, recommended by Wickham’s Fruit Farm. Also, get a recipe for pickled cherries here.
4 cups sweet cherries, pitted
½ cup flour, sifted
¼ cup super-fine sugar
1 ¼ cups milk
¼ teaspoon vanilla
Place cherries in a single layer in a 9-inch pie plate.
Place flour and sugar in a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle. Add the eggs and half of the milk. Beat together, gradually incorporating all the flour.
Add the remaining milk and vanilla, then pour over the cherries.
Bake until puffed up and golden brown. Serve warm and, if desired, garnish with crème fraîche or sour cream.
Sweet Cherry Sauce
1 pint sweet cherries, pitted
1 cup water
¾ cup sugar, or to taste
¼ cup kirsch liqueur
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Combine cherries and ¾ cup water in saucepan. Quickly bring to a boil and remove from heat. Drain cherries into a bowl or jar.
Add sugar to liquid in pan and boil until reduced to about ½ cup. Add kirsch and vanilla and boil 2 minutes. Pour over cherries and mix well. Serve over ice cream, as one option.