When you come from Michigan, there is so much to say about cherries that you practically come to a halt thinking of where to begin. When you’re Lebanese, cherries are known for their pits as mahleb, ground and used as a flavoring in baking. But right now it’s summer, and we’re focused on fresh fruit flesh. The pits are for another day entirely.
Traverse City, which is about 90 miles southwest of where I am in Harbor Springs, is the cherry capital of the world. I hope that’s stating the obvious, and if you aren’t from these parts, I hope that you did in fact know that the cherry you just ate probably came from Michigan. Cherries are so abundant here that they feed the country with 75 percent of its cherries.
The first cherry tree was planted on the Old Mission Peninsula in Grand Traverse in 1852, and there cherries discovered their ultimate feeding ground: Lake breezes, cold winters, and sandy soil. This year the early warmth we reveled in in March caught its lunch when its staying power yielded to frost and devastated the tart cherries (“bud kill”). At least a lucky few of us got to enjoy the cherries before they were wiped out, in the form of the most ethereal, breathtaking flowering trees ever to grace fresh grass and rolling hills. This was my first spring up north, and I felt nearly guilty (nearly) watching spring cherry blossom beauty unfold out of winter fallow.
The cherry stands will be cropping up soon all over the place here, and you can be sure I’m eating a handful of sweet cherries every day now. Their color is mesmerizing and their flavor sweet and juicy, and if that isn’t enough, their health qualities can compete with the best of them—cherries are an antioxidant powerhouse, gaining them their status as an emerging Super Fruit.
You won’t need but a handful of cherries for our recipe this week. With the rest you can walk along eating and spitting out the seeds as you go, a good sign that summer has arrived.