Michigan’s Tart Cherries: The Harvest

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Tart cherries are softies, reminding me in texture of a ripe plum or grape. For all of the potent flavor and nutritious qualities of this Super Food, the fruit sure needs a lot of TLC. Which it gets, in spades, from growers and then here at home if you are lucky enough to get fresh ones and want them to last more than a minute or two.

The harvesting of the tart cherries was one of the best moments of my cherry immersion last week (second to eating all-things-cherry, of course). It’s more about shaking than it is picking; in fact, the harvest process is called shaking. When the harvest is ripe, it waits for no one, so they shake it all night long (that’s a direct quote; don’t you love it?) until as many cherries as possible are pulled from the trees.

The shake down goes like this: along comes a truck that has a big flat wing on it, looking like a wild mix of old- and new-school engineering. Friendly drivers move slowly so they don’t mow down the foodie paparazzi. The contraption grabs hold of the cherry tree trunk and in a swift shake up, a rainstorm of thousands and thousands of cherries fall to a gentle bed beneath.

The shake-up turns immediately into a chill down, bathing the precious cherries on the spot and again later. Warm cherries from the tree were delicious, but try pitting those babies and you’ve got nothing but mush; hence the chill for firmness. Pitting is essential to the process because the majority of the cherries will then be made into tart cherry juice concentrate, dried tart cherries, or frozen tart cherries.

It’s true that it’s easiest for you to find the dried cherries; I asked around here and found the frozen at Meijer, and put in what seems like my weekly request now for Glen’s to carry something I need, this time frozen tart cherries. I was successful with bags of za’atar, so I’m hopeful for the tart cherries.

Tart cherry harvest. A thing of beauty.

(Recipe is coming, I promise.)

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  1. Marcia. O'Dea says:

    Memories of living in So. Bend and trying to fit in by making cherry jam! Thanks for the nostalgia! Wish I had those moments again!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      So special, how foods connect us to our place and to our memories.

  2. Patricia Saad says:

    We own a 40 acre cherry farm in northern Michigan. Eastport is about 15 miles south of charlevoix. All friends and neighbors are invited to come and pick till they can’t any more. Such fun to see the littlest ones being held up so they can teach the trees!

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      Wow, how special Patricia that you own a cherry farm here!

  3. Boyne Girl says:

    My mouth is absolutely watering in anticipation of this year’s crop! I can hardly wait!!!! The stands for the sweet cherries went up this weekend all around Petoskey; so, I am sure these sweet divine little darlins’ are not far behind!!!!!

    1. Maureen Abood says:


  4. Martha Smydra says:

    Does anyone ship frozen tart cherries or are they all dried or canned? These will be for a great pie baker.

    1. Maureen Abood says:

      I haven’t found a shipper; locally here in Michigan Meijer stores were carrying frozen tart cherries last summer. The cherry growers institute said their number one goal is to get tart cherries into more hands, soon!

  5. Michelle Deiter says:

    love this post !

  6. Phil says:

    Love your photo’s Maureen…. Tart Cherries…. America’s Superfruit…Thanks for Passing it on!

  7. Emily says:

    Maureen, your photos are absolutely beautiful! I stumbled upon your blog and just love, love, love these photos. They really make me feel as if I’m right there in the orchards.

  8. Karine Keldany says:

    Beautiful pictures and great theme. I love tart cheries ( or Weshna in arabic).
    Thanks for sharing.

  9. Tom says:

    Fascinating facts and amazing photos, Maureen. I’ve shared your photos from yesterday and everyone said the same thing, “I want pie! Now!”

  10. Jerry Wakeen says:

    Interesting, some other tree fruit is shaken like that but I don’t remember which.
    If the dried ones are good for pie I would like to buy some.
    Do you have a web site for Meijer’s?
    Thanks, great photos. Foodie paparazzi?
    When we pick strawberries it is implied that you can eat a few, same with paparazzi and cherries, I assume.
    best, Jerry

  11. Joan Aboud-Bedard says:

    Thanks for the info, Maureen. I’ve often wondered how they pick cherries. I usually get up on a ladder (very scary) with a basket hanging on my arm to catch each cherry. Takes forever. I prefer the “shakedown” method!