Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

In Wisconsin's Door County, It's Always Cherry Time

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

In Wisconsin's Door County, It's Always Cherry Time

Article excerpt

ELLISON BAY, Wisc. - Cherry orchards line the roadsides almost like wallpaper here in Door County. They march inland in rows from the highway and northward to the tip of the peninsula. Billboards touting orchards, wineries, distilleries, bakeries, breweries, cheese stores and restaurants whet the appetite for the shiny red globes of fruit hanging beneath green leaves on the trees.

Limbs bend under the weight of the beautiful red fruit that's visible from the car. They seem to be whispering, "Pick me, pick me!" I'm here on a media trip to experience cherries every which way, and am eager to sample twists on cherries I can only begin to imagine. After all, Door County has become one of America's top culinary destinations.

Cherry season here begins and ends later than where I live along Lake Erie. Last winter's frigid weather made short work of Pennsylvania's cherries, so seeing a good crop along Lake Michigan is heartening.

As the sun sets over Green Bay, the terrace at Carrington Pub and Grill in Egg Harbor is a relaxing place. Among the menu offerings are pork ribs topped with brandied Door County cherries or a rack of ribs with a cherry barbecue sauce and whole cherries that roll off the meat begging to be the first bite eaten. The Grill's pretty Cherry Lemonade with Vodka is a perfect summer drink - not too sweet, not too tart.

Picturesque little towns like this dot the shoreline. Each one's main street is festooned with cheerful planters, hanging baskets and gardens of summer flowers. One even planted marigolds in the narrow strip between curbs and sidewalks. All make fine spots, too, for a cocktail hour before dining out. A little cherry cheddar cheese accompanied by apple cherry cider is appealing, but more on that later.

Visiting Seaquist Orchards and owner Dale Seaquist is an education, history lesson and source of laughter. Forty or 50 years ago, he built the first version of a "shaker" for harvesting cherries. Current tree shakers can harvest four trees a minute; the work yields 60 to 70 pounds per tree. The family-owned business also processes cherries and apples. It fills 150,000 jars annually, of which one-third are chopped cherry jam.

During my time in the orchard, the cherry whispers grew louder as the harvest neared - mere days away. "When the fruit gets loose and it tastes good, it's time to harvest," says Mr. Seaquist, pulling a cherry off a stem. His explanation of cherry growing and processing is punctuated with loud reports of propane guns in the orchard across the road; the sound drives away pilfering birds. There are no "pick your own" cherries, but Mr. Seaquist jokes, "We got another tourist."

The retail store at Seaquist's is a time-grabber. It takes a while to make your way around the spacious store. What's your fancy? Fresh sweet or tart cherries, jam, jelly, pie filling, fresh pie, pure juice, salsa, cherry streusel muffin mix, cherry lemonade, cherry syrup? It's all here and attractively displayed.

Door County doesn't lack talented, creative people who exploit cherries in the best ways possible. Creative growers, processors, chefs, bakers, vintners, mixologists and Door County residents have amassed a considerable variety of ways to use cherries to extend the delicious season beyond summer. During the harvest, it's not uncommon to have fresh cherries at every meal, but off season they are available frozen, canned, dried, or as a beverage.

For example, one old product returning to stores may be new to some in the United States: "hard cider." Island Orchard Cider in Ellison Bay is producing a unique twist on the beverage.

Yannique and Bob Purman's Normandy-style - wine-like - ciders are dry with a subtle fruit flavor, making them a dramatic contrast to now mass-produced American products. …

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