National Cherry Festival – Day 2
On Wednesday, the second day of our cherryful adventure, we were up and at ‘em and meeting for breakfast by 8:15. Breakfast included yogurt with granola and dried cherries, something that’s already a staple in my diet. Dr. Wendy Bazilian (DrPH, RD) spoke to us about cherries, new research surrounding the benefits and uses of tart cherries, and consumer trends. For instance, did you know:
- … that 95% of tart cherries consumed are grown in the United States and 75% of that U.S. crop is grown in Michigan?
- … that consumers are trending towards foods that are both natural, fresh, and local as well as have recognizable ingredients, added value, and a meaningful benefit to them and their health? We are! You probably knew that. You probably ARE that consumer.
- … cherries have as many antioxidants as blackberries, and more than strawberries and raspberries?
- … they also have fiber, potassium, vitamin B-6, and vitamin-A in the form of beta carotene?
- … that there’s so much more I learned about cherries that blew my mind and you can check that out here or by clicking on the pretty little cherry below.
The rest of Wednesday was a totally delicious whirlwind of meeting the people behind the cherries – the growers and producers. I’m blown away by the hospitality all of the cherry folks shared with us. We started at Cherry Bay Orchards, met the growers – Don and Ann Gregory – and enjoyed a tour of the orchards. I even got to help with the harvesting!
After learning about the cherry growing and harvesting process (and taking a ton of pretty red fruit pictures), we went over to the Cherry Republic for lunch and more cherry treats and merchandise than I’d know what to do with. A little info on the Cherry Republic:
Welcome to Cherry Republic, North America’s 4th largest country and the land of Life, Liberty, Beaches & Pie. Across our borders you will discover over 175 Cherry products on sale! Founded on our joy of life with cherries, our mission is to pass on to you the many ways to have fun with cherries! From our famous dried cherries, chocolate covered cherries, jams or cherry salsa we have great gifts or pantry fillers for you. Shop with us Online, receive our Catalog or find ways to come visit our unique stores.
Bob Sutherland, the oh-so-generous and gracious owner of the Cherry Republic shared their story with us. He told us that every single thing in their shop is sample-able, whether or not it’s open and that he makes it a point to make sure the staff knows that and even more importantly – that his guests know that they can try every delicious cherry delicacy before they buy it. (Maybe because he knows how hard it is to pass up that cherry BBQ sauce once you’ve tried it!).
Confession: I know how good the cherry barbeque sauce was because I tried it. That’s right. Lunch served at the Cherry Republic was a BBQ pork sandwich topped with this sweet goodness. Now, 364ish days out of the year, I’m a pescetarian. If you want to know my reasons behind the seafood-only option, you can read about how it was an exercise in self-discipline that accidentally became a lifestyle. But the Memphis girl in me misses BBQ the absolute most – more than Juicy Lucy’s, more than bacon, more than Dome dogs – so when I cheat, I cheat with pulled pork, saucy sauce, topped with coleslaw in between two carb-rich pieces of some kind of bread.
Forgive me, pesce/veggie-gods, for I have sinned. And it was absolutely, totally, one-hundred percent worth it.
Besides, for those of you who believe you have to finish your meal before you have dessert (for the record, I am not one of those people), here’s what I had to look forward to for dessert: cherry pie the way cherry pie is SUPPOSED to taste.
I’m already hoping to get back to Traverse City sometime, and this is a place I’d like to go back and spend more time. I came away with cherry apple butter, cherry peanut butter, cherry salsa, white/milk/dark chocolate-covered cherries, dried cherries, cherry juice, cherry concentrate, and having tried cherry wines and ciders. SO MANY CHERRIES, and so many delicious ways to prepare, package, and enjoy them – I can’t wait to try all of the butters!
National Cherry Festival
Wednesday night, our group ventured to the festival grounds for the 84th Annual National Cherry Festival. The festival attracts over 500,000 visitors in the span of the 8-day event. We were given VIP treatment, ate great food, and enjoyed wine and a view of the lake, all set to the background music of a really awesome Beatles cover band. According to the website, the mission of the National Cherry Festival is to celebrate cherries, tourism and community involvement, and judging by my experience over less than half of the time of the festival – they do exactly that. I love having learned all we did about cherries, Michigan, and the people behind the craft prior to attending the festival.
We spent the last morning in Michigan visiting the Northwest Michigan Horticulture Research Center. Yes, there is an entire institution (and acres and acres of land!) dedicated to the research to these tasty fruits. The Research Center is a “multidisciplinary horticultural facility focusing on fruit production, specializing in tart and sweet cherry” (source).
Dr. Nikki Rothwell led our tour of the orchards and explained the production, harvesting and research going into different cherry varieties. She explained how they’re testing different irrigation techniques and other conditions so that Michigan continues to grow and share the most optimal tart cherry possible.
All of those amazing bloggers, chefs, writers, and photograhers I met on the trip? They’ve offered their insight on the experience as well and have shared some photos that leave my mouth watering.
Also, my videos are being edited and slowly making their way up on my YouTube channel. You can check those out here, and see all of the pictures I took last week here.
To everyone who brought us together and shared their lives and passions with us:
I am so, so grateful for the chance to have shared this delicious experience with so many inspiring minds and new friends. Massive, huge thanks to the Cherry Marketing Institute, the Cherry Republic, Bob and Ann Gregory at Cherry Bay Orchards, Dr. Nikki Rothwell at the Northwest Horticulture Research Center, the National Cherry Festival, Park Place Hotel, the Celtic Shuttle, and to the beautiful team at Weber Shandwick for introducing me to some brilliant new friends, and for treating us like rockstars while we experienced the best that Michigan has to offer. I can’t wait to for the opportunity to catch up with, visit, and work with any and all of you again in the future.
Tart cherry-flavored kisses,
Photo credit: They’re mine! Unless I noted otherwise.