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NCW’s sweet season: Cherries on track towards third-largest harvest

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George Hernandez applies liquid nitrogen to a batch of the Orondo Cider Works’ chocolate-covered cherry ice cream.

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Cherry tidbits: A few facts about the region’s sweetest fruit

  • North Central Washington leads the state in almost all categories of cherry production: number of acres, number of planted trees, number of trees per acre.
  • In 2012, the price per ton of fresh cherries in Washington averaged $2,710, with a total crop value that year of just under $500 million. In 2013, bad weather cut the crop by nearly 40 percent from the previous year. Result: the price per ton soared to $3,190 but the overall crop value fell to $351 million.
  • During the rain-drenched 2013 harvest, the average number of boxes packed in July (mid-season) was 282,000 per day. That compares to 429,127 boxes per day in July 2012 and 364,000 boxes per day in 2011.
  • The U.S. exports a lot of cherries to Canada and Japan. In 2012, total fresh cherry exports (sweet and tart) were valued at $501.6 million, up 22 percent from 2011. Exports to Canada accounted for about $162 million of all exports in 2012.
  • Bing cherries, the most popular cherry cultivar in the U.S., was named in honor of Ah Bing, a Chinese orchard foreman who worked in Milwaukie, Ore., in the 1850s. The Rainier cherry was named, of course, after Mount Rainier by Harold Fogle, a Washington State University horticulturalist who developed the variety in 1952.
  • Cherries have been found to be a good source of antioxidants and contain compounds believed to aid in pain relief of arthritis, gout and headaches, according to the Agricultural Marketing Resource Center.

Sources: Northwest Cherry Growers, Agricultural Marketing Resource Center, U.S. Department of Agriculture.

 

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Give Mother Nature a pat on the back for work well done. At least so far.

Her delivery of a moderate winter and warm spring have cherry growers smiling as they prepare for what’s predicted this year to be the state’s third-largest sweet cherry crop on record. And, say experts, fruit quality ranks high, too.

All this great weather seems almost too good to be true,” said Brianna Shales, spokeswoman for Wenatchee-based Stemilt Growers, one of the world’s largest fruit companies and a top U.S. supplier of cherries.

We see lots of cherries on the trees and believe we’re on track for a very strong crop,” she said. “As long as the weather cooperates.”

Regional trade associations have estimated a Northwest cherry harvest this year of just under 20 million boxes, about 40 percent more than 2013’s rain-drenched crop of 14.3 million boxes but less than 2012’s record crop of 23 million.

In April, observers noted well-spaced blossoms on trees across central Washington, which brought pre-harvest predictions of the juicy, nice-sized fruit that marketers and comsumers love.

If the weather holds, we could have a fruit of extremely high quality,” said B.J. Thurlby, president of Northwest Cherry Growers. “It looks like very healthy harvest.”

Picking is expected to begin in the first week of June and continue through September. Traditionally, producers aim for a majority of the crop to be plucked by the Fourth of July holiday.

Over the last decade, the state’s cherry production — Bings, Rainiers and a host of other varieties — has surged as newer, higher-yield trees bear fruit and overall acreage has increased. The state now has about 40,000 acres of cherries in production.

Of course, say producers, a near-record crop of quality fruit all depends on fickle Mother Nature. In early May last year, growers had predicted a crop of 18 million boxes before rainstorms through most of June and July dashed those hopes.

Rain “just chipped away” at crop totals through key harvest months, Shales said of Stemilt’s 2013 cherry crop. “It was disappointing, to say the least.”

Stemilt averages about 3 million boxes of cherries annually, with around 10 percent organic.

This year, growers also have their fingers crossed for an early summer of slowly warming temperatures that spread ripening times — and therefore the work of harvesting and shipping — across eastern Washington’s cherry-growing regions.

Under ideal conditions, southerly orchards near Tri-Cities and Yakima ripen first and, as summer progresses, the band of “readiness” moves north to Grant, Chelan and Okanogan counties.

This weather-dependent process favors a labor force that traditionally tracks north as orchards become harvest-ready ensure a steady supply of pickers.

And since most cherries are sold within a few days or weeks of being picked, a nicely spread harvest also delivers a steady supply of fruit to markets and keeps prices from fluctuating too widely.

Conversely, a compressed harvest means much of a crop gets picked and delivered at the same time, which can lead to surges and ebbs in fruit on grocery shelves. That happened in 2009 when harvest didn’t begin until June 17 and the industry was forced to ship 15 million boxes in about 45 days.

One more factor aiding this year’s Washington harvest is the downturn in California’s crop due to drought and unstable winter conditions. This spring, California’s crop is expected to fall to 5 million boxes from the normal annual haul of 8 million.

We could see very high demand for Washington cherries when they hit store shelves,” said Thurlby. “California’s limited crop will mean two to three weeks of sparse cherry supply for the consumer — at least until our cherries begin arriving in mid-June.”

On the marketing side of harvest, cherry growers will likely be advertising heavily to alert consumers to the arrival of a new crop in produce sections. “We’ll likely see demand exceed supply in those early weeks,” he surmised.

Good weather, quality fruit and an expectation of strong demand and prices means “the stars could be in alignment for a really fine harvest,” said Thurlby.

Hopefully, what we’re seeing in May will hold through June and July.”

Stemsational: Local entrepreneurs share their creative cherry goodies

By Christine Pratt

Business World writer

Fresh cherries come off local trees this time of year and into the imaginations of local entrepreneurs who dream up creative ways to transform them into delectable treats.

The pie isn’t the limit, here. Not by a long shot.

Cherry brandy

Twin Peaks Cider House & Distillery

Chris Phillippi is preparing for his second batch of brandy using cherries that his family has packed for local growers for decades.

Phillippi was inspired by the German “kirschwasser” — cherry water or brandy — made of tart cherries.

Since we don’t have many of those around here, he chose the sweet, fleshy Rainier cherry, pressed it into cherry juice and fermented it into wine.

He then distilled the liquid to create 24 gallons of crystal-clear 100-proof brandy firewater.

The sweeter the cherry, the higher the alcohol content, it seems.

It’s very different. It has these nut undertones,” Phillippi said. “That was our first shot. We knew we were on the right track.”

Family and friends were impressed enough to inspire a second batch this year, of still-to-be harvested red cherries.

This time around he hopes to limit the alcohol content 80 proof, a standard for brandies. That’s the alcohol content of his popular Apple Jack, a whiskey-like apple liquor, which still packs plenty of heat, but with a smoother swallow.

Examples of the second run of cherry brandy should be available for sale in September.

Learn more: The Twin Peaks tasting room is at Phillippi Fruit Co., 1921 Fifth St., Wenatchee, 662-8522.

Chocolate-covered cherry ice cream

Orondo Cider Works

Made while you wait and flash frozen amid blast of liquid nitrogen vapor, this dish of frozen heaven is made of cherries grown in Chuck and Sharon Podlich’s family orchard, when in season.

They’ll be available again later this month and throughout the year in frozen form.

Ice cream maker George Martinez adds a splash of chocolate syrup and mixes, mixes, mixes until its of perfect ice cream consistency. It sells for about $10/quart. Less for a small or large dish. They also make milk shakes.

If you like cherries and ice cream, it’s a custom mix we created,” Adam Pousch, manager of the Orondo store and cider maker.

In June and July, the shop also sells a cherry cider made from cherry fruit concentrate it buys in Sunnyside and mixes with the store’s signature soft apple cider. The cider works doesn’t have the equipment it needs to make the concentrate locally, Pousch says.

Learn more: Orondo Cider Works, 1 Edgewater Drive, just off Highway 97 by Sun Cove Estates, between Mileposts 224 and 225. It’s open 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Contact 784-1029.

Cherry cheesecake cream cupcakes

Cake Chic Studio, Wenatchee

Graceful to the eye and delightful to the taste, these made-to-order cupcakes are as much art and delicacy.

Jodi Johnston and her mother-in-law Sandy Gerber specialize in wedding and novalty cakes so artistic and whimsical that it’s hard to believe they’re actually edible.

The moist cherry cheesecake cream cupcakes are filled with a cherry compote — local when in season. They’re topped with a majestic swirl of cream cheese/butter cream frosting sprinkled with “pixie dust” — a shimmering, edible glitter.

She and Gerber, both fervent bakers, got their commercial start when they made cupcakes to sell in Memorial Park during the Apple Blossom Festival.

It just went gangbusters,” she said. “Then we got into the wedding business with cakes, and that flourished. We just have a love and a passion for it.”

The cherry cheesecake cream cupcake is but one in an arsenal of imaginative finger cakes. The sell for about $2.50 each.

Goods are custom order, by appointment only, from the Cake Chic’s commercial bakery on Wenatchee’s Crescent Street, just off of Ferry, near Staples. Call 668-1151 or visit them on the web. Orders usually take a day to fill.

Organic cherry wines, cherry balsamic vinegar and more

Spencer Fruit Organics, Malaga

Bruce and Grace Spencer have been growing organic cherries, other fruit and produce for decades.

Their Bing cherry wine, Bing cherry desert wine, cherry balsamic vinegar and chocolate-covered dry cherries are organic and made from their own fruit.

Cherries have been my biggest passion because it’s only 60 days from bloom to harvest,” said Bruce Spencer from the couple’s stand at the Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market last month.

Their wines, both dry and desert, are made of 100-percent cherries, not mixed with grape, as many are, he says.

They’re best sellers of the nine different varieties of fruit wines they make. Both the dry and desert wines have won awards, including The World’s own North Central Washington Wine Award.

The cherry balsamic vinegar is a newer arrival for the Spencers. It’s made with very ripe cherry juice that is “inoculated” with finished vinegar and left to ferment. They made 50 gallons this year, but it sells fast.

The chocolate-dipped dried cherries are Spencer Farm’s own fruit dipped by a chocolatier friend in Chehalis. Even the chocolate is organic.

Wines cost from $18 to $28/bottle, the vinegar is $10/bottle, the cherries $4/package.

Learn more: Spencer Fruit Organics is near the Three Lakes in Malage. Stop by their booths in the Wenatchee, Leavenworth and Roslyn farmers markets to sample their products. Contact them at 888-2076 or through their website.

Funky Chunky Cherry Jam

Kelly’s Kitsch’n, Wenatchee

An apple orchardists’ daughter from Chelan, Kelly Rolen has taken what used to be a survival technique for farm families and elevated it to a creative, fruity art form — small-batch artisan preserves.

Her Funky Chunky Cherry Jam will be back in stock as soon as she has some fresh, local cherries to work with.

Everything is seasonal,” she says from her commercial kitchen in a quiet neighborhood near Wenatchee High School. “I make what I can get my hands on.”

She’d help her mom put up quarts of peaches and pears. She remembers shucking corn and pouring the parafin wax on top of the grape jelly she made ever year.

Her own artisan preserves are playful and surprising. Funky Chunky Cherry Jam sits on a shelf alongside concoctions that include Kitsch’n Pepper Jelly, Red Onion Marmalade, Pear and Dark Chocolate Jam, Banana Vanilla Rum Butter and “5 Stars Cowboy Candy” — candied jalapeño peppers.

Rolen sells inside Pybus Public Market Saturdays on Wenatchee Valley Farmers Market days. She’s also at the Chelan evening farmers market and, soon, the Manson farmer’s market on Wednesdays. Prices range from $7 to $14.

Learn more: Contact her, 630-2103, kellyskitschn@gmail.com or on the web.

Cherry Truffle Wine

Voilá Winery, Cashmere

Bethany Botello, part owner in this family venture, says this specialty wine made using the same process as a grape-based wine, but using 100-percent cherries grown right across the street from their Kimber Road winery.

We wanted something that was different, for a person who isn’t a traditional wine drinker,” she says. “Something dark and red and luscious and fruity.”

A touch of unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder during the fermentation process gives this cherry wine a truffly hint, but its not a desert wine, Botello says.

Served chilled, the wine’s chocolatty tones become more pronounced. Its fruity notes come out at room temperature.

Their current stock is from the 2012 cherry harvest. It costs $20/bottle.

Visitors to their tasting room can sip a glass of cherry truffle and look out at the orchard that produced the cherries, she said.

Learn more: Voilá Vineyards is at 6359 Kimber Rd., Cashmere. Its tasting room is open Thursday through Saturday, 12:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. Contact, 679-7559 or look for them on the web.

 

Reach Mike Irwin at 509-665-1179 or . Read his blog Everyday Business or follow him on Twitter at @MikeIrwinWW.

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