“See this little bud here, don’t break it off when you pick, it’s next year’s cherries.”
Oh my gosh, what responsibility! One false move and my family and I could be responsible for the ruination of next year’s cherry crop!
What if I accidentally pick off a bud – or two – or three? Would I receive a phone call that would go something like this?
Hello, this is U-Pick Orchards in Yellow Bay. You and your family came by last July and picked 40 pounds of Lamberts from our prized cherry tree. It had been producing well for years until you and your family came along and picked off the buds and ruined the crop. Didn’t you listen to the instructions for picking? This is so bad, we’re facing financial ruin. Now what do you say to that? I knew it was a stupid thing to open up our orchard to the public. What are you going to do about all this, huh?
It was the last week of July when we arrived at the orchard in Yellow Bay. We drove down the hill to the house, parked behind another customer’s truck, and got out. Walking towards the house I looked at the familiar face standing in the open garage and thought of how nothing much had changed from last year’s visit, except that we were all a year older.
After being asked how much we planned to pick, a harness and a bucket were given to each of us. Then a young man walked us to the cherry grove and showed us where to pick. We were given our instructions (as mentioned above), and were told to hold the stem of the cherry and lift at a 90 degree angle for best results. He then left us to the picking.
We picked away and quickly filled a crate with about 35 lbs. of cherries. They cost us a little over a dollar a pound to pick, which was an excellent deal. And we got a good deal in the scenery department as well. Flathead Lake is much prettier than the produce aisle at the grocery store, although I do think colorful vegetables are a beautiful sight.
Harvesting cherries from a tree is a rewarding experience. You feel connected to your food and nature as well. It’s an enjoyable way to get some sunshine and exercise, while also bringing home delicious and healthful cherries. And, as I heard a mother saying as she was paying for her hand-picked cherries at the orchard, “It teaches my son where cherries come from.” I think that’s a worthwhile lesson.
With the picking behind us, my thoughts turned to canning. Over the next two days, we would begin sorting, cleaning, pitting, and processing cherries and making jam.
Here are some essential tips for a great cherry picking experience:
- Cherries are ready for picking when they are full in size, glossy, and bright in color. The darker the cherry, the more robust the flavor.
- Pick early in the day when it is coolest.
- Look for firm cherries that have not been damaged by worms, insects, or hungry birds.
- Pinch the top of the stem where it meets the branch and pluck at a 90 degree angle to avoid damaging the tree.
- Handle cherries carefully. They bruise easily.
- After bringing your cherries home, do not remove the stems. This helps to keep them fresher, longer. Removing the stems will create a brown spot where the stem is removed.
- Keep them cool. Refrigerate, freeze (pitted), use them in your favorite Cherry Pie recipes, or preserve within 3 days through a canning process.
- Simply eat and enjoy!