Michigan’s Second Most Popular Cherry—the Balaton™

Tart (sour) cherries are much beloved in many parts of Asia and Europe. So it’s not surprising that the second most common cherry grown commercially in Michigan has its ancestral roots in Hungary. The Balaton™ (yes, that’s a trademark symbol!) comes to Michigan via the hard work of Dr. Iezzoni at Michigan State University.1

Dr. Iezonni, Professor of Horticulture, is a specialist in cherry genetics and the breeding of tart cherries. Working with researchers and breeders in Hungary, Dr. Iezzoni did testing of varieties of tart cherries. Much hard work later, the Balaton™ was introduced (and trademarked), named after Hungary’s beautiful Lake Balaton (a big tourist attraction).

Lake_Balaton

Now, there is a very interesting agreement regarding the Balaton™: For every Balaton™ tree sold in the US, 25 cents goes to support tart cherry breeding research in Hungary. I think that’s fabulous—a way of using the present to ensure the future.

I’ve not had the Balaton™ fresh, though perhaps next year I’ll take a trip to Michigan during harvest season. But until then, I’ll make do with the delicious dried ones I have!

And until then, a big “Thank You” to Dr. Iezzoni!

Balaton_Cherries

1 A excellent history of this cherry can be found at www.hrt.msu.edu/faculty/Iezzoni/Balaton/HistoryBalaton.html

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Michigan’s Most Popular Cherry—the Montmorency!

If the state of Michigan is the Cherry Capital of the United States1, then the Montmorency is its president. A variety of Prunus cerasus, it is the most planted and harvested variety of sour cherry grown in Michigan. The Montmorency’s end use is typically processed—winding up canned or frozen, as well as in pie filling. Very little of the crop is sold fresh, a pity as some of us love the tart burst of flavor. However, the appearance of those sour Montmorencies in a homemade cherry pie does offer us some solace.

CherryOrchard1

Cherry orchard in Michigan–the fruit is still green, though, as the picture was taken in June!

Despite being mostly found in pies, the Montmorency can be used in other recipes, as well as jams and preserves (sour cherry preserves are perhaps my very favorite). In parts of Eastern Europe, as well as Iran and Turkey, sour cherries, whether fresh or dried, find their way into various recipes. This makes sense, as Eastern Europe and Southwest Asia is thought to be where sour cherries came from. For example, Meggyleves, a marvelous sour cherry soup of Hungarian origin, is made with cherries (Morellos), sour cream, and sugar, perhaps accented with cinnamon; it makes a delicious light dinner on a warm summer day. Kompot wisni, a compote of sour cherries from Poland, is excellent over vanilla ice cream. Abaloo Polow is an Iranian dish of rice and sour cherries with a touch of saffron.

Interestingly, health buffs are also starting to appreciate the Montmorency. Today, you can purchase tart cherry extracts (in powdered form) in vitamin stores, with alleged benefits that include anti-inflammatory properties and the removal of free radicals from the body. Me, I just like the taste of cherries!

So, what is the origin of the name? It (Montmorency) comes from a French town (actually commune, a type of administrative unit) located about 10 miles (16 km) from Paris. I’m not sure why the cherry is named after a French place, though!

CherryOrchard2

Flyover Clairvoyant sees pie in my future!

Montmorency

Mmmmm–tasty!
1Actually, Traverse City, Michigan bills itself as the Cherry Capital of the WOLRD and hosts the annual National Cherry Festival each July, attracting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the beautiful Leelanau Peninsula.

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Rice Salad with Dried Cherries and Almonds

A recipe for Tart Cherry Weeks! Here’s a simple, savory use of dried sour cherries—in a salad that incorporates Persian and Middle Eastern flavors. Serves 4 as a side dish (and the recipe is easily doubled).

What You’ll Need

  • saucepan (to cook the rice)
  • bowl for the salad
  • skillet for toasting the almonds (if not already toasted)
  • spoon
  • jar for mixing the dressing
  • measuring cups (liquid and solid)
  • measuring spoons
  • cutting board and knife
  • juicer for the lemon

Ingredients

  • 1 cup basmati rice
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock1
  • 1/4 cup dried tart cherries
  • 1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
  • 2 Tbsp fresh mint, chopped
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/4 cup olive oil, plus a little extra for the rice
  • 2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • salt
  • pepper

Making the Rice Salad

  1. Rinse the rice. Warm a little olive oil to a saucepan, then add the rice, cooking until it is coated with the oil.
  2. Add the stock or water. Bring to a boil. Add some salt (1/2 to 1 tsp) if you are using low-sodium stock. Then give the rice a quick stir, cover, turn heat down to low, and let simmer for 20 minutes. Remove from heat and let sit for 5 minutes, then take off lid and fluff with a fork.
  3. When the rice is done cooking, place it in a bowl and let cool a bit (5 minutes).
  4. Add the cherries and almonds, incorporating them into the rice.
  5. Sprinkle the cinnamon over the rice mixture and mix it in well.
  6. Shake the oil and lemon juice in a jar until well mixed.
  7. Pour the dressing over the rice salad and mix well with a spoon.
  8. Season with salt and pepper.
  9. Sprinkle the mint leaves over the salad, then mix with a spoon to incorporate them throughout.
  10. Serve warm or at room temperature.

This recipe is pretty basic and amenable to additions. You can add pistachio to (or in place of) the almonds. Some chopped green onions add flavor, as does a bit of cardamom. Include some cooked chicken and you’ve got a main dish.

CherryRiceSalad

1If you don’t have enough stock, you can use a mixture of stock and water or all water—just make sure you have 2 cups

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Chocolate-Cherry Scones or Sconettes1–a Match Made in Flavor Heaven!

Here’s a scone recipe for you, as we celebrate Flyover Cherry Weeks. You’ve learned a bit about the industry in the previous posts about the history and about the Montmorency. But all information and no food/recipes isn’t fun–time to get those bowls and spoons of yours and put them to work! The dark chocolate and the sour cherries work very well together in this scone recipe. This recipe makes 8 scones.

What You’ll Need

  • large mixing bowl
  • pastry blender or two knives (the kind you use to eat); you can also use a food processor
  • wooden spoon for mixing
  • whisk
  • baking sheet
  • pastry brush

Ingredients

  • 2 cups unbleached white flour, plus extra for shaping the scones
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 Tbsp baking powder
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 6 Tbsp cold unsalted butter (3/4 stick)
  • ¼ cup dried sour cherries (Montmorency or Balaton)
  • ¼ cup semisweet or bittersweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate chunks (from a bar of chocolate)
  • 1 large egg
  • ½ cup heavy cream
  • 1 additional Tbsp cream
  • Sugar for sprinkling

Making the Scones

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (~220 Celsius).
  2. Mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt in large bowl.
    DryIngredients
    Cut butter into tablespoon-sized pieces and add to flour mixture. Cut butter into flour with pastry blender or two knives, tossing pieces of butter with flour. Continue to cut butter until largest pieces are pea-sized and the rest are like breadcrumbs.
    CuttingButter
    Do not let butter form a paste with the flour—the pieces should be separate. If using a food processor, pulse a few times until the mixture resembles cornmeal with some larger pieces (i.e. the pea-sized ones described above).
  3. Stir in cherries and chocolate chips with a wooden spoon. They should be mixed throughout the dough, but take care not to overmix.
  4. AddChocAndCherries

  5. Whisk egg and cream together. Add to flour-butter mixture all at once. Mix with rubber spatula or wooden spoon just until dry ingredients are moistened.
  6. MixTillMoistened

  7. Gather dough into ball and knead gently with your hand against bottom and sides of bowl, about 10 times (turning and pressing loose pieces into the dough).
    DoughInBall
    When bowl is fairly clean, transfer dough to lightly floured surface and shape into 8-inch (20 cm) circle.
  8. Shaping

  9. Cut into 8 wedges.
    CutInWedges
    Place wedges on ungreased baking sheet, at least ½ inch apart. Brush tops with remaining cream and sprinkle small amount of sugar on top.
  10. OnBakingSheet

  11. Bake until tops are golden brown, anywhere from 15-20 minutes, depending on your oven. Let cool on rack or serve warm.

CoolingOnRack

You can also freeze these once you’ve formed the wedges. No need to thaw before you bake them—just bake for a couple of minutes longer, watching to make sure they don’t burn. It’s nice to be able to make just a scone or two if you don’t want an entire batch. Since they are easily baked in a toaster oven (if you have one), you needn’t turn on your large oven.

1Sconettes are just mini-scones and I’ll share some tips here. The pictures show sconettes and to bake them I halved the recipe, which means using only half of the ingredients.(see Note). Half of the recipe will make 8 sconettes.

  • They were baked in a toaster oven at 425°F for 15 minutes.
  • I chopped the dried cherries a little bit, but that is not necessary.
  • To halve the egg, crack it in a bowl and beat so the yolk and white are well mixed. Two tablespoons of the mixture is half of a large egg. You can refrigerate the rest and incorporate it in your scrambled eggs.
  • I used 2.5 tablespoons of sugar in the flour-sugar-baking powder mix.
  • I shaped them into a circle about 4.5 inches (11.5 cm)
  • I baked them in a toaster oven, but you can certainly use a full-sized one (many people don’t actually own a toaster oven–I do and it’s about 15-16 years old.

Note Because more and more people are living and 1- and 2-person households, I do like to include some recipes that can be easily cut in half.

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All Tarted Up—A (Very) Brief Geography and History of Northern Michigan’s Cherry Agriculture

We have the state of Michigan (and to a lesser extent, Wisconsin’s Door County) to thank for our cherry pies. Indeed, the largest producer of tart (sour) cherries is Michigan, responsible for well over half of them (Utah is number two). And in Michigan, it’s the Leelanau Peninsula that serves as the center of the industry. So, how did this happen? The tart cherry is a bit hardier than its sweet cousin, so Michigan isn’t an out-of-the-ordinary place to grow them.

We can thank the French for the initial appearance of cherry agriculture in Michigan. French colonists planted cherry trees in towns they founded, including the Michigan city of Detroit. But the advent of commercial cherry agriculture can be tied to Presbyterian missionary Peter Dougherty, who settled in Northern Michigan. He planted trees on Old Mission Peninsula near what is now Traverse City in 1852 and the area’s physical geography proved advantageous for cherry production. This established the Leelanau region as a place to grow tart cherries. Commercial production was introduced in 1893 at Ridgewood Farm, also near Traverse City. As they (and just who is “they”, anyway)—the rest is history!

Leelanau_Peninsula

And physical geography. The Leelanau Peninsula is well situated environmentally for cherry production. This 30 mile (48 km) extension into Lake Michigan benefits from the moderating influence of the lake’s waters. Water has a high specific heat—the amount of energy required to raise a unit mass of something by 1°C; that means it takes a lot of heat energy to raise the temperature of water. You’ve heard of the expression “a watched pot never boils”? Well, if that pot is full of water, it seemingly takes forever for that to start boiling. It also takes a long time for water to cool down. Thus, places near large bodies of water tend to have more moderate temperatures, even if they are located at higher latitudes.

So, how does that relate to cherries? Well, it can get pretty cold up north, but proximity to the water means that it won’t get as cold as some place in the middle of a large land mass. Thus, the cherry trees in the Leelanau Peninsula are protected. And in the spring? Again, the water’s tempering influence protects the trees from late frosts that follow spring thaws. How? A burst of warm weather can trigger the blooming of the cherry trees. But the nearby water means that the weather won’t get quite as warm, reducing the likelihood of blooms to fall victim to a late, killing frost. Is this foolproof? No—the unusual spring of 2012, with its near summerlike temperatures in March (record-setting, no less) followed by a cold April ruined Michigan’s sour cherry crop. But all things considered, the presence of Lake Michigan benefits the tart cherry industry in Michigan.

References: http://cahnrs-cms.wsu.edu/sweetcherryresearch/about/history/Pages/default.aspx and http://www.cherryfestival.org/history

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