How to Take Advantage of Ontario’s Cherry Season

Packaged crust makes this pie a breeze.

Only 20 days long, so get them fresh well you can! Last Friday I toured the Cherry Lane farm in Vineland Station, Ont., to celebrate the 2009 cherry season. I love picking fruit and berries during the summer but somehow always seem to miss the short cherry season. Not this year. Jen Smith, a 10th-generation cherry farmer whose family has run the farm since 1907, took us on a tour of her farm and processing line. The farm seemed serenely quiet when we first arrived. That was until we entered the non-descript building tucked next to their retail store. (The store boosts numerous fruit selections (fresh, frozen, and dried) and wonderful gift ideas. This little known secret spot also has gifts, housewares and a selection of kids’ toys!)

Once Jen was able to drag us away from the store, we were in awe as we watched how cherries are processed. Once off the tree (literally shaken by a machine) they are cooled in bins filled with water. This helps keep the pit in the middle for easier pitting. From there the cherries are de-stemmed and pitted. I asked where the pits went. Well, here is a bit of recycling news: they are burned in the wood stove of the next door farmers green house keeping it warm in the process! After we donned lovely hairnets, we stepped inside the building that housed the processing line. Clicking along using technology that hasn’t changed much since the early ’60s, it is a combination of a bit of tech but mostly fast hands and a conveyor belt. The cherry’s first analysis takes place under a colour reader machine. Not the right colour and they’re tossed into a large bin destined for the fab Cherry Lane Concentrated Tart Cherry Juice. (More on that later.)

The cherries scoot along the line until they are finally sealed in varying sizes of buckets and loaded in the back of a large tractor trailer. Five trucks a day filled with cherries are shipped out to cold storage during the cherry season.

In addition to fresh cherries, Cherry Lane makes a wonderful Tart Cherry Juice Concentrate. Made with sour cherries, this juice packs a nutritional punch. The red pigment is a natural antioxidant that also has anti-inflammatory properties and can be used in reducing the pain of arthritis, gout and headaches. Cherries contain the same anti-inflammatory ingredients as Aspirin and many prescription drugs. Using cherries to bring down inflammation is a safe, natural alternative to medication, so eat up!

We left Cherry Lane with a few buckets of cherries (sweet and tart), dried cherries and some of the tart cherry juice. I will post some more cherry recipes in the next few days.

In the meantime, pick up some cherries and make the world’s simplest pie. You will be the hero at supper and no one has to know that you had a little help.

Easy Cherry Pie
I love the Pillsbury Refrigerated Pie crust! No muss, no fuss and you get a great flakey crust that tastes great. And, although it’s not diet food we are talking about here, it contains just about what you would put into a pie pastry yourself.  If your cherries are frozen, increase corn starch by 2 tablespoons when thickening the juice.

1  Measure out 5 cups of tart cherries into a colander placed over a bowl. Let juice run out. In a small pot, whisk 3 tablespoons of cornstarch, 1/2 cup of sugar and the cherry juice together. Over medium high heat whisk until thickened and jelly like.
2 In large bowl, toss cherries with a half cup of sugar and 3 tablespoons of cornstarch until cherries are well coated with mixture. Mix in thickened juice.
3 Unroll one Pillsbury refrigerated pastry sheet into a large pie pan. Fill with cherries. Dot pie with 2 tablespoons of butter. Unroll the second piece of pastry over top and pinch together edges.  Chill pie until ready to bake.
4 Pre-heat oven to 425ºF. Brush top and edges of pie with milk. Sprinkle coarse sugar over top of pie. Cut a few steam vents in the top of the pie
5 Bake pie for 15 minutes then reduce temperature to 350ºF and continue to bake another 35–40 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

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