One key element missing from our globalized grocery industry is seasonality. By that, I mean that we can have virtually whatever food we want, whenever we want it. It doesn’t occur to us that tomatoes taste better in August, or that citrus is sweeter and juicier in winter. Our supermarket produce departments know no seasons, and that is a loss – but because most of us have never known true seasonality, we don’t demand it. We should.
Colorado’s Western Slope has long grown most of the stone fruit produced between California and the Midwest, and wine grapes are now in vogue here as well. Make no mistake, though: growing fruit in a high-plains desert more than five thousand feet above sea level, with less than ten inches of total precipitation a year (that’s rain and snow), isn’t easy. Plus, the orchards and vineyards here are tiny, averaging only a few dozen acres; these are micro-orchards compared to those in California and Oregon and Washington, which cover thousands of acres. All of that means when cherries are in season here, often for as little as two weeks, one must act quickly. And so we did, hustling up to Antelope Hill Orchards for the opportunity to pick our own.
Fruitgrowers Reservoir is already nearly dry, and it’s only mid-season.
This season was a tough one for fruit growers in Colorado; most local orchards lost their cherry crop to a late frost. And as climate change has intensified, especially in the already-arid West, farmers and ranchers fight for limited water and try desperately to protect themselves and their land from wildfires. All this bad news means that if we can skip the middleman and pay the growers directly for their fruits or vegetables, like we do at pick-your-own farms, it’s more likely that they might be able to stay in business. (It is positively infuriating to see the big chain supermarkets in the area advertising “Northwest cherries $1.67/lb.” as they were last week. There is no loyalty to local if it’s cheaper to truck them in bulk from the Pacific Northwest; no matter that they’re heavily undercutting growers only a few miles away.)
On a cheerier note, like many other places proud of their agricultural heritage the Western Slope honors its most-loved crops with festivals. Last weekend we hoofed it up to Palisade for the Lavender Festival; Independence Day found us at Paonia’s legendary Cherry Days, a two-day celebration of all things cherry. They elect royalty! They’ve got a classic car show! There’s a woodsplitting contest! A coal-shoveling contest! And a cherry-themed costume contest! Who says small towns don’t know how to party?
Grand Avenue, Paonia. We missed the parade.
Cherry Days Royalty. Eat your heart out, Meghan Markle.
I did not win the Cherry Days Baking Contest. RV ovens are tricky.
One of the things we look forward to most about living here is a pantry and freezer stocked with all manner of fruits and vegetables and meat, grown and raised by people we know personally. We’ve already gone through at least twenty pounds of cherries that we harvested at Antelope Hill; we ate most fresh, gave lots away to RV park friends and I spent an afternoon pitting a few pounds for freezing. If my dehydrator weren’t in storage, that would be running nonstop, too. And now the Colorado cherries are finished. Yes, you can buy cherries in January, but why would you? Cherry season is fleeting, and therefore much more appreciated. There is nothing special about having something all the time. We wait all year for Colorado cherries, and something this good is worth the wait.
16 thoughts on “Ode to the cherry”
Elizabeth, you’re certainly correct about lack of seasonality yet I do remember that concept from decades ago. Returning to those days would not be easy but certainly more sustainable and environmentally friendly. Hopefully your Quiet Farm will help in that regard. Best wishes.
Cathleen, I’m glad someone remembers the idea of eating in season. If we could just convince everyone how much better food tastes when it’s eaten in season, we might get somewhere…but I’m afraid we’ve gone a little too far to turn back that clock. Nevertheless, I’m really looking forward to Colorado peaches in a couple of weeks! Thank you for reading!
Bought Colorado cherries from the farmers market last weekend. Pitted and frozen for winter. Next peaches for canning.
Jim, I can’t wait for peaches either! I very much hope that I’ll have a kitchen by then so I can put up a few dozen quarts for winter.
The best sweet cherries came from Sunnyvale only a few decades ago, but there are few who can remember it. The best prunes came from Campbell. The best apricots came from all over the Santa Clara Valley. You would never know it now.
I have no less than 4 bags of cherries in my fridge at this very moment. Every time I walk into a store during peak cherry season I buy a new bag – can’t help myself! I eat them for dessert 3 meals a day during the summer. One thing I’ve noticed this year, the CO cherries are smaller but more flavorful, and the WA cherries are meatier but not quite as flavorful. Maybe due to the growing conditions of the season this year?
Kelly, I don’t have enough knowledge to speak for certain, but I would assume the Colorado cherries are smaller and more flavorful because of the extreme drought. And I’m just like you – a fridge full of cherries – but in the RV, I can’t fit much! I cannot wait to get my big freezer and dehydrator running again!
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