It may seem odd to talk about cherries in the middle of February, but February is National Cherry Month, and as residents of the world’s cherry capital, we Michiganders tend to think about cherries year-round. Cherry orchards line the eastern shore of Lake Michigan from Benton Harbor to Charlevoix, producing 75% of the tart cherries grown in the US. Long before the first of these orchards was ever planted by man, this geographically unique area was a thick tangle of wild pin cherry, chokecherry and black cherry trees, evidence of how ideally suited our lakeshore is to the cultivation of this beloved fruit.
Here, rolling hills of sandy loam slope upward along the shore into the prevailing west wind. As the first warm winds of spring move over the lake, they’re cooled by this great cold mass of water — a disappointment to winter-weary humans but a boon to vulnerable cherry trees that could be deceived by the tantalizing warmth of early spring into budding and blossoming before the danger of killing frost had passed.
In summer, the lake effect brings cool nights at the end of each hot, summer day, which slows the maturation of fruit and allows Michigan cherries to develop a depth and complexity not found in others that ripen more quickly.
As the seasons progress and the air grows colder, the lake remains a reservoir of warmth. Throughout the winter, the abundant lake effect snow produced by this mingling of warm and cold builds up in deep, wet drifts in the dormant orchards along Lake Michigan’s leeward shores, enveloping the delicate roots and lower trunks of fragile cherry trees in a thick, insulating blanket that protects them from winter kill.
Without this great lake, Michigan could not produce cherries in such quantity and of such quality as to have earned the reputation of Cherry Capital. The Montmorency cherry is Michigan’s most famous fruit. Because of their tender flesh and fermentable sweet-tart composition, these cherries are rarely found fresh except at local orchard stands. They’re perfect for pie-making and preserving, and you can taste the full character of their flavor in each one of our perfectly preserved tart cherry specialties.