While Michigan may take the cake for best baking cherries, the Pacific Northwest grows the most outstanding fresh, sweet cherries in the country. Farmers in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, and Montana grew the cherries in Sunset’s produce department. Cherries are a temperamental crop; not all areas can grow them well. There are lots of reasons why we choose to source our cherries from the Northwest:
Majestic mountains. Cherries are grown along hillsides near mountain ranges. Fresh water runs down the mountains, providing irrigation to the cherry orchards.
Little rain. Pests love moisture. Growing fruit in the desert means less disease pressure, meaning fewer pesticides, herbicides, and insecticides are used.
Temperature fluxes. The Northwest’s long, hot days followed by chilly nights are critical for concentrating the fruit’s sugars and retaining their bright red color.
Lush soils. Cherries love the sandy, slightly acidic soils in Northwest. Sandy soils drain water easily, yet retain the micronutrients the fruit needs.
Harsh winters. Cherries must undergo a sufficient winter chilling in order to break dormancy and bloom in the spring. Some cherry farmers use the motto “The deeper the snow, the better the cherries”.
Besides quality, sourcing cherries from this area of the country comes with another advantage: an extended harvest. This area’s wide range of latitudes play a role in harvest time. Because warm temperatures arrive in lower-latitude areas first, these trees are first to ripen. The harvest schedule works it way north, beginning in Utah, followed by Oregon, Idaho, Montana, and finally Washington.
Elevation, or altitude, also plays a role in the harvest schedule. The higher the elevation, the cooler the temperature. Orchards at high elevations ripen later than those at lower elevations. This system is best for shoppers. Because of cherries’ short shelf life, if all cherries were harvested at the same time, cherries would only be available for a couple weeks of the year. By varying harvest times, we’re able to bring you the nation’s sweetest cherries from mid-June through early September.
Speaking of harvest, our cherries are harvested by hand in the early morning (the fruit softens if picked later in the day). The fruit is then hydro-cooled, packed, and shipped to Sunset with 2 days of being picked.
Check back later this week for tasty recipes using our favorite cherry varieties!