Three Spice House staffers (myself, Desi, and Roxanne) took last Sunday off to drive up to Door Couny for a day of cherry picking. This is an annual trip for me, to stock my freezer for winter pie making, but it was fun to have company this year. We left right after work Saturday, still smelling of spices, and spent the night in Manitowoc before driving into Door County to look for orchards. I’ve gone to Choice Orchards in Sturgeon Bay before, so we headed in that direction, but we found Cherry Lane Orchard just over the Door County line and went there instead. It’s a gorgeous little orchard run by a friendly, helpful gentleman who set us up with pails and belt clips and sent us out into the trees.
We’d had storms the previous night and would drive through more bad weather on the way back, but the weather while we were out in the orchard was gloriously summery – hot and still with just enough breeze to make it bearable. I’d heard that after last year’s poor cherry crop, this year’s harvest was exceptionally good, and it certainly seemed true! Cherries hung so thick on the trees that every time we reached up we came done with a handful for perfect ripe cherries. It only too about an hour to fill our seven pails with about 63 pounds of the delicious Montmorency Tart cherries for which Door County is famed.
Hot and thirsty, we paid for our cherries and loaded up the car. The orchard’s owner sent us a little way down the road to Country Ovens, where we found, among other cherry-themed goodies, ice-cold Sprecher Cherry Cola. I don’t know if it was just because of the heat and our thirst, but this soda tasted like the nectar of the gods – if you can find any, get it.
Of course, the downside of cherry picking is going home and pitting all your fruity goodness. I know people who love kitchen gadgets and will cheerfully shell out money for a tool that does nothing but pit cherries, but I have neither the space nor the budget for that kind of culinary extravagance. I’ve always just used a paring knife for pitting, which works fine as long as you’re not worried about keeping every single cherry intact. But this year I tried a new technique, suggested by the owner of Cherry Lane Orchard: the straw. Take a simple drinking straw (actually, have several ready, because they get dull and bent after a while), and use it to poke the pit out of the cherry. It works flawlessly; better even that a regular cherry pitter, I think – plus the straw slowly fills up with juice and pulp, which is a delicious little bonus to suck out. Just make sure the pit actually comes out, and doesn’t just get pushed to the side of the cherry. I favored the kebab technique (thread several cherries onto the straw and then slide them all into the bowl), while my pitting partners processed one cherry at a time – my way was a little stickier, but I think also a little faster. We got through our 63 pounds in record time.