There are times in one’s life where you just happen to be at the right place at the right time. Like my first goal that I ever scored in soccer. I was a studly 5-year-old and wondering around the soccer field aimlessly when the opponent’s goalie took the ball and punted it right off my head into his own net. And like any tough little Norwegian kid would do, I began to cheer and cry at the same time. I’ve loved soccer ever since.
In the farming world, I feel like I was at the right place at the right time when I met Paul and his wife, Elane, from Excelsior Orchards. The fruit that they were growing was the best that I had ever sunk a tooth into. Unparalleled freshness and flavors, all while holding a strong belief that our food system is better without the use of chemicals and poisons.
That first meeting was 14 years ago, and we have been supporting each other ever since.
The Excelsior Orchard harvest usually begins around the 4th of July and it is not uncommon to have their apples all the way into February of the following year. And this year is looking to be a phenomenal year from the Excelsior trees. The trees have made it through all the winter snow and spring freezes. So by this time in the season, Paul has a really good idea of what will produce this year and what won’t.
The good news for all of us is that the harvest is shaping up to be one of the strongest on record. We should have a steady stream of fruit coming from the trees this year. This will take the shape of cherries, apricots, plums, nectarines, peaches, pears, and apples. Fortunately for Paul’s harvest crew and for us, these all come in a stream of successive pickings. We will not get all the fruit over one month. They get in line and one after another come pouring into our warehouse.
For you (and me), this means that we can enjoy each harvest independently. Taste the nuances among the varieties and learn about the crops as they come in. This week, for example, we have the Benton Cherries. They are the first off the trees and do not like to be fashionably late. Being first to the party usually brings classic features with them. Here are some notes to keep in mind while munching on a Benton.
Temperature. First off, before we dive into some tasting notes of these cherries, please remember to try and eat your cherries at room temperature. If you want to store them for a while, sure refrigerate them. But ideally, you want to enjoy cherries at room temp so your mouth tastes flavors and not just temperatures. It basically is the same reason you do not want to drink a big bold red wine cold. Cold temps lock up flavors. So with that foundation, let’s dive into the bowl of cherries. And, by the way, this is a fun tasting exercise for the whole family.
Acid/sweet ratio. All cherries express their flavors in this balance between being super sweet/sugary all the way to being acidic or what our mouth calls “Tart.” So what happens on the tree is the cherries start out very starchy without any sugars and full of acids. Acids are great on the tree because acids will not compost or breakdown. They have a terrible flavor at this stage, but they are stable. Then add our magical sunshine.
As the cherries sit sunbathing on the trees, the starches will transform into sugars. Our mouths love sugars, But the more sugar a piece of fruit has, the less stable it becomes. Why? Because sugars breakdown very quickly and fruit will take on the appearance of being over-ripe. So commercially, this is the grower and the grocery stores’ greatest dilemma; how can you bring customers flavor while keeping a long shelf-life?
This one question is responsible for the poor state of our food industry. Stores try to bring customers flavors year-round, but cherry harvest is a month long. You can obviously have cherries outside that window, but the quality will suffer. Our cherries don’t have to sit on a grocery shelf hoping for someone to buy them. They go straight from the tree to you. How awesome!
So back to our Benton Cherries for this week. This variety is such a great one to launch the cherry season I feel like. Big fruit, yummy sugars, and a refreshing acid bite to them. Super tasty and not a complex fruit. Remember this fruit compared to some of the rich flavors that we have in store for you. If we were at a wine tasting, the Bentons are the fresh rose that you might start tasting. We have the dark cabs still coming your way. Buckle up for a fun month here. Farmer Monte