Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time


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The Day We Saw the Cherries

I’ve said it before but it bears repeating – as an Alaska girl, nothing impresses me more than seeing where food, produce specifically, comes from. In Juneau, with the exception of fresh seafood, most of our food is barged or flown in. Lately, there is more interest in vegetable gardening to supplement the veggies we can buy at the store, at least during our short growing season.

At our house, we divided our space into the front garden of flowers and shrubs and the back which houses our teeny greenhouse of tomatoes, raised beds of greens and root veggies, an herb garden, and tubs of potatoes. This year, we were thrilled with the apples ripening on our very small tree in the backyard. Hubby was concerned the bears might discover them but so far, they’ve not found their way.
All this to say that when we travel, I love finding local produce and products but true happiness is being able to wander through an orchard when the fruit is ripening. We are fortunate to have family friends with orchards in Omak, Washington, who let us stop by on our travels and take the time to explain the process of getting from tree to table. This year, we decided to housesit in the summer – a rare event for us as we prefer to be home fishing and tending our own gardens –so we made a point to include a visit our friends during cherry season. omak-cherry-orchards-8

Cherries are a precious commodity in Juneau. They are one of the more expensive fruits we buy and have a very limited season. It’s a happy day when we see our favorite, Rainier cherries, at the store. To see them growing on trees, to be able to pick and eat them right there was truly amazing.omak-cherry-orchards-48

Walking among the cherry trees was just as wonderful as walking through the apple and pear orchards – even if it was 95 degrees which is way too hot for a Juneau girl.  I love seeing the ladders that seem to beckon you to climb up and pick.

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Some things I learned about cherries:

  • There are so many different kinds of cherries that never make it to our stores or even to the roadside markets – I love them all!
  • They use helicopters to dry the cherries after a rain. It’s a very dangerous job as the helicopter fly very low. You can imagine how very expensive it is for the orchard owner and of course, that cost is directly translated to the price of cherries in the market.
  • Cherries are placed into bins similar to those used for apples but much smaller and the bins are hauled by tractors, just like the apples are.

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  • If you’re lucky, you have a guy with one of these trucks that backs right over the row of stacked cherry bins and picks them up all at once and off they go.

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  • The bruises on unpicked cherries can be caused by wind causing the fruit to bump into other. I know people who have ready access to cherries are put off by this but frankly, lifelong Alaskans are less picky about their produce. I had no problem picking that bruised fruit and popping it straight in my mouth.
  • A rain before harvest can cause the cherries to split at the stem; another blemish that makes them less marketable.
  • Bruised or blemished fruit could be made into juice, etc. but the cost of picking is so much more than the price they sell for so they are frequently left on the trees.

Neglected fruit makes me sad! So we quickly accepted the invitation and took our little bag to the orchards and rescued a few pounds for our trip up the AlCan Highway home.

Nothing beats a hot summer day spitting cherry pits out the window!  Now how am I going to get a cherry tree into the backyard?