On a crisp winter evening in 1989, the moon rose high above Flathead Lake casting the silhouette of hundreds of cherry trees onto the glassy, calm water. A fine mist from the unusually warm day rose to meet the moon, slowly dropping the temperature for the evening ahead. As the farmers turned off their porch lights and snuggled deep into bed, a bizarre occurrence began to take place. The higher than normal winter temperature began to plummet at an amazing speed, leaving a fine blanket of frost across the land and chilling the delicate cherry trees that surrounded the lake. The next morning when the farmers awoke they were startled to find their sweet tender cherry trees cracked and frozen. The bizarre weather pattern continued for eight days, destroying hundreds of cherry trees, leaving the farmers destitute.
With dedicated pride Montana's cherry farmers have built the industry back up and are now producing an average of 730 tons of cherries a year.
There are many different types of cherry trees, such as Lapin, Royale Anne, and Lambert, which is the main sweet cherry grown in Montana. Cherries may appear to be the same basic size and color, but don't be fooled, there are subtle differences between them. For instance Bing Cherries are very round, where as Lambert Cherries tend to have a heart shape (that's why Montana has such a big heart!), and although most cherries are red in color, they can also be found in shades of yellow.
Cherries are harvested in a two to three week period, generally during mid-July to mid-August. The cherries are picked during the coolest part of the day so that they do not get too warm at the packing plant. At the packing plant they are graded on their quality and then boxed and shipped out all over the United States. Most of the sweet cherries that are grown in Montana are eaten fresh, but some of the cherries are processed and used in candy, ice cream, juice, and wine. A few tart cherry trees are also grown in Montana, and these are usually frozen and canned for baking purposes.
Besides shipping Montana cherries all over the United States, the cherries are also shipped overseas to countries like Sweden, Belgium, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Norway. Just think, Swedish children halfway across the world are eating cherries grown right here in Montana! For more information about Montana cherries please see Flathead Lake Cherry Growers.
Have you ever eaten cherry pie or cherry cobbler? What about cherry cheesecake, cherry syrup, or a cherry turnover? Cherries are also used as an ingredient in fruit juices and cordials. There are lots of ways to cook with cherries, but nothing beats the incredible taste of a fresh, juicy cherry! Here is a great recipe:
Cover chokecherries with water and cook until soft and tender. Cool. Drip through jelly bag. Add 1 cup of the cherry juice to 1 cup of sugar, plus 2 tablespoons of lemon juice. Cook down till jelled.
Recipe from the Butte Heritage Cookbook.
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