Tag Archives: cherries

Here in America’s Cherry Capital, We Put Cherries into Almost Everything!

Cherry Chicken Salad at North Peak

Cherry Chicken Salad at North Peak


Here in Traverse City, we’re proud to be America’s “Cherry Capital” – and not without reason. Over 75 percent of the nation’s tart cherries (the ones used in baking and cooking) come from Michigan – and most are grown here, in the beautiful hillside orchards overlooking Grand Traverse Bay. And since we also pride ourselves on being one of the country’s up-and-coming “foodie towns,” it makes sense that most local restaurants — from the humble to the haute – have at least one cherry specialty on the menu.

Those who love finding cherries in all their food can find satisfaction in the Grand Café at Glen Arbor’s Cherry Republic, where one can sample cherry-sauced pulled pork or meatloaf,  try a CBLT (cherry-bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich) and some cherry pasta salad — polished off  with a slice of cherry pie, or a scoop of cherry ice cream. But for less obsessed diners, here’s a brief guide to some eateries that aren’t quite so enthusiastic:

Appetizers: First off, there’s the baked Brie topped with hot cherry sauce at Sleder’s Family Tavern. Or the Gorgonzola Ale Dip at North Peak: gorgonzola blended with cream cheese, dried cherries, toasted pecans and beer, baked and served with pita chips or bread.

Salads: Traverse City’s most ubiquitous cherry dish is probably Cherry Chicken Salad, but it comes in a bewildering array of styles. The “TC’s Favorite” at The Dish, for instance, involves walnuts and gorgonzola with an orange-ginger vinaigrette, while Minerva’s features both dried cherries and Granny Smith apples, sliced celery, almonds and feta, with honey balsamic dressing, and Morel’s includes smoked walnuts.

The version at the Jolly Pumpkin, meanwhile, includes smoked chicken breast, dried cherries, Maytag blue cheese, candied pecans and dried cherry vinaigrette, while the Front Street Salad at Poppycock’s has cherry jalapeno glazed chicken breast, dried cherries, toasted pecans and fresh goat cheese with lemon cherry vinaigrette.

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Sandwiches: These are easy to find, too. At Bay Bread, there’s a Cherry Turkey sandwich (turkey, cherry walnut spread, lettuce & cherry butter on multigran bread) while Little Bohemia  offers a version with turkey, Swiss cheese, spinach and cherry walnut mayo on toasted sourdough. North Peak has a Cherry Chicken Ciabattini that combines creamy chicken salad with dried cherries, toasted pecans, celery and onion on a ciabattini roll with alfalfa sprouts.

Minerva’s Cherry Chicken wrap teams a grilled chicken breast with spinach, walnuts, gorgonzola, tomatoes, green onions, dried cherries and cranberry vinaigrette, while The Dish offers a Cherry Daze Wrap:  chicken, havarti cheese, red onion, dried cherries, and fat free cherry vinaigrette. The 45th Parallel in Suttons Bay (which puts little cherry symbols on their menu to mark the cherry dishes) has a Cherry Albacore Tuna Melt, while the Green House Café’s TC Reuben tops its sliced corned beef with melted provolone and cherry kraut.

Breakfast: Cherries go well with cereals both hot and cold. Bay Bread, for instance, has a homemade cherry nut granola with milk for breakfast, while 45th Parallel offers Old Fashioned Hot Oats — a blend of oats, sliced almonds, dried cherries and floured dates that’s baked, sprinkled with brown sugar and served hot with cream or milk.

At the Flap Jack Shack, they have a Stuffed Cherry French Toast: a classic sourdough French toast that’s filled with sweet cherries and vanilla cream cheese, then topped with more cherry compote and lightly dusted with powdered sugar.

Meats: It was local butcher Ray Pleva who came up with the idea of mixing cherries and pecans into bratwurst and other sausages. House of Doggs has a nice grilled cherry brat, and Apache Trout Grill includes smoked cherry sausage (along with a half rack of ribs, barbecued  shrimp, baked beans and slaw)  in its BBQ Mixed Grill.

Pleva’s other famous creation – Plevalean, a low-fat blend of cherries, lean ground beef, oat bran and spices – can be also be sampled.  Mackinaw Brewing  serves up  Plevalean burgers, while Xylo has created something called the Leelanau Gyro: strips of grilled Plevalean served up in a pita with an herbed spread, tomato, onion and Greek dressing.

Pork and chicken are also popular cherry partners.  Schelde’s features Cherry Apple Pork Chops (two boneless chops grilled with their apple-cherry relish), while Reflects at Cambria has a Cherry Glazed Chicken: a hand-breaded grilled chicken breast topped with homemade cherry demi-glaze, and Sleder’s serves a charbroiled half chicken brushed with cherry BBQ sauce.

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Fish: The most ubiquitous cherry-paired entree in Traverse City has got to be fish. There’s pan-seared walleye topped with cherry butter at Schelde’s, Pecan Crusted Whitefish with cherry amaretto sauce at Apache Trout Grill, Walleye Almondine in cherry wine cream sauce at Peninsula Grill, pecan-encrusted walleye with buerre blanc and dried cherries at Mackinaw Brewing, cornflake encrusted crab cakes with cherry compote at Fire Fly and Cherry Almond Salmon at Poppycock’s.

Pizza: Tart cherries add a whole new zing to pizza.  Pangea’s China Cherry Chicken pizza has chicken, pineapple, green peppers, carrot slivers and mozzarella cheese with sweet-and-sour cherry sauce, while Mancino’s  has a Cherry Chicken Pizza with marinated chicken, dried cherries, walnuts, ranch sauce and five different cheeses. And there’s Peninsula Grill’s Pesto Chicken Pizza: pesto, grilled chicken, red onions and dried tart cherries.

Dessert: Cherry pies and cobblers are everywhere. Best-known is the Grand Traverse Pie Co., which has eight varieties of cherry pie. But Reflects at Cambria and Little Bohemia both have their own versions of Cherry Bread Pudding, while Aerie at the Grand Traverse Resort & Spa features a cherry toffee pudding cake with toffee sauce, almond ice cream, candied cherries and sugar coated almonds.

Here’s contact info for all these restaurants:
45th Parallel www.45thparallelcafe.com (231) 271.2233
Apache Trout Grill www.apachetroutgrill.com‎ (231) 947-7079
Bay Bread www.baybreadco.com‎ (231) 922-8022
Cherry Republic www.cherryrepublic.com (800) 206-6949
The Dish www.thedishcafetc.com (231) 932-2233
Flap Jack Shack www.flapjackshack.co(231) 941-1890
Grand Traverse Pie Co. www.gtpie.com (231) 922-7437
Green House Café www.greenhousecafetc.com (231) 929-7687‎
House of Doggs www.houseofdoggs.com (231) 922-1348
Jolly Pumpkin www.jollypumpkin.com/traversecity (231) 223-4333
Little Bohemia www.lilbo.com 231-946-6925
Mackinaw Brewing  www.mackinawbrewing.com (231) 933-1100
Mancino’s www.tcmancinos.com (231) 943-4844
Minerva’s www.minervas.net/minervas-traverse-city (231) 946-5093
North Peak www.northpeak.net (231) 941-7325
Pangea’s www.pangeaspizza.com‎ (231) 946-9800
Peninsula Grill www.tcgrills.com/peninsula-grill‎ (231) 223-7200
Poppycock’s www.poppycockstc.com  (231) 941-7632
Reflect (231) 778-9000
Schelde’s (231) 946-0981
Sleder’s Family Tavern www.sleders.com (231) 947-9213‎
Xylo www.xylobistro.com (231) 421-9200

The Cherries Start to Ripen — and Thereby Hangs a Tale

Ripening cherries above Grand Traverse Bay

Ripening cherries above Grand Traverse Bay


It’s amazing what a few days of good, hot summer weather can do.

For weeks, Traverse City’s cherry crop has been languishing on the trees – small, green and hard — thanks to a long, cold spring that has kept the fruit from ripening. And since the National Cherry Festival is supposed to start this Saturday, the usual crowd of Monday-morning quarterbacks has been writing, posting, tweeting and snarking that there won’t be any local cherries for sale this year. (As if the festival organizers have any way to predict when a given year’s crop will be ready for harvest — and as if there’s anything wrong with bringing fruit in from farmers a few miles to the south of us.)

But as I drove in to the office this morning, I noticed that some of those little cherries were starting to ripen – getting nice and red after a weekend in the 80s and 90s. It was a welcome sight, if only because they’re a part of who we are. In fact, with the possible exception of the Garden of Eden, it’s hard to think of a place more closely linked to a particular fruit than Traverse City is to cherries.

We don’t just have a Cherry Festival. Everything in Traverse City seems to have a cherry theme attached to it, from the Cherry Capital Airport, the Cherry Tree Inn and the Cherry Bowl Drive-In to the Cherryland Electric Cooperative, the Cherry Bomb Lacrosse Tournament and the Cherry Hill Boutique. It’s a rare restaurant that doesn’t have at least one cherry-laced sauce, dessert or entrée, and a rare gathering where bowls of dried cherries aren’t on hand for snacking.

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Michigan’s cherry-producing region starts about 100 miles down the Lake Michigan coast, in the area around Hart and Oceana County, but it gradually intensifies as you get closer to the communities around Grand Traverse Bay, which is really the heart of cherry country. The coastal counties of Benzie, Leelanau, Grand Traverse, Antrim and a bit of Charlevoix are far and away the most productive cherry country in the state.

For over a century, the inhabitants of the Traverse Bay region have regarded these bright little fruits as a sort of botanical mascot. They’ve been part of the Traverse City experience ever since the first cherry tree was planted here in 1852 by the Rev. Peter Dougherty, a Presbyterian missionary to the local Ottawa and Chippewa Indians.

No one expected Dougherty’s tree to survive so far north. Instead, it flourished – and it wasn’t long before arriving settlers began planting cherries of their own. What they discovered was that this region’s unique geography — gentle hillsides surrounded by lakes and bays of deep cool water – play a crucial role in moderating spring and winter temperatures.

Learning to bake a cherry pie at the Cherry Festival

Learning to bake a cherry pie at the Cherry Festival

Over the years, cherry orchards began to spread across the hills of the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, and today the Traverse City area produces over 75 percent of the world’s tart cherries. Back in 1923, local churches began a tradition known as the Blessing of the Blossoms, to pray for a successful crop. That simple blessing gave birth to an even larger celebration: the National Cherry Festival, now in its 86th  year. Each July, the week-long festival draws hundreds of thousands for parades, music, fireworks, games and competitions — including cherry pie-eating and pit-spitting contests.

But the heart of the festival is still cherries. Its organizers constantly work to come up with new and unusual uses for the area’s favorite fruit, whether it’s in a familiar dessert, a basting sauce or even on pizza. In fact, in Traverse City you’ll find cherries in everything from beer and wine to cherry vinaigrette salad dressing, bratwurst and beef patties. The week-long festival, now includes a multitude of wine-tastings, food samplings, and  competition for cherry-based recipes. And there are orchard tours, too.

Cherries at the Cherry Festival

Cherries at the Cherry Festival

There’s a reason for this ceaseless creativity: American tastes are changing, and people are eating less pie. If cherry farmers are to survive, they know they have to find new markets for their products. One of the earliest pioneers in this effort was Leelanau butcher Ray Pleva, who first mixed cherries with meat back in the 1980s. His Plevalean burgers are now served in school cafeterias in 18 states. Today Pleva is heading in yet another direction, marketing skin care products that blend cherries with natural oils.

In fact, the cherry industry is devoting a good deal of attention to health and beauty products, trading on the nutritional and anti-inflammatory qualities of cherries.

An awe-inspiring panoply of cherry items can be found in Glen Arbor, home to the original Cherry Republic store, which sells more than 150 cherry products from soda pop and wine to ice cream and salsa. (The Republic also has an “embassy” in downtown Traverse City, where many stores sell cherries in one form or another – whether it’s the preserves and sauces at American Spoon Foods or the chocolate-covered dried cherries at Old Mission Traders/The Cherry Stop.)


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Another wonderful way to encounter cherries is the way we locals do: at a local farm market or U-pick orchard. (Two good ones to try are McManus Southview Orchards, just south of  town on Garfield Rd., and Gallagher’s on M-72 just west of town.) Standing in the orchard, with a glimpse of sparkling blue horizon visible between the heavy-laden branches, it’s clear that cherries chose a special place to make their own.

Girl Picking Cherries

Floral Fireworks all over Traverse City (and Some Real Fireworks for July 4!)

Cycling the Leelanau Trail

Cycling the Leelanau Trail


Walking around Traverse City this week, the smell of blossoming trees is everywhere!

Big masses of white cherry blooms in the orchards, wispy boughs of Juneberry in the forests, little high notes of pink peach and apricot on the hillsides, great clumps of blue and purple lilacs in the neighborhoods and lacy white pear blossoms above the downtown sidewalks. All that unpleasant May rain and snow is finally paying off, it seems.

Trilliums and Violets in the Woods

Trilliums and Violets in the Woods

And the trees aren’t the only things in bloom. The forest floor is alive with wildflowers this week. Seas of white trilliums; wild violets in their purple, gold and white; jack-in-the-pulpits (or is it jacks-in-the-pulpit?); Dutchman’s breeches, toothworts, spring beauties, trout lilies and all manner of other blooms. It’s a floral fireworks out there!

Speaking of fireworks, it looks as though there’s going to be another great July 4 fireworks display over West Grand Traverse Bay this year, thanks to the Traverse City Boom Boom Club — the nonprofit group responsible for raising money to finance last year’s impressive fireworks.

Former National Cherry Festival director Tim Hinkley, who helped organize the club and is its current president, says the whole idea is to “spur pride in our country and remembrance of our nation’s independence.” The club is receiving support through contributions from some local municipalities, businesses and private donations, but they’re also asking for community grassroots help.

The 2012 Fireworks over Grand Traverse Bay.

The 2012 Fireworks over Grand Traverse Bay.

The Boom Boom Club was formed two years aho when it looked as though Traverse City might not have enough money to have a July 4 fireworks display, and its initial 2012 show was a great one. Produced by Great Lakes Fireworks of East Jordan, the program featured 1,100 shells and lasted 30 minutes with music simulcast by WTCM-FM.

Contributions are tax deductible, thanks to the fiscal sponsorship of the Cherry Festival Foundation, a Michigan nonprofit corporation exempt from taxation under section 501c3 of the tax code. Donations of any size are welcome, but the group has set up several levels of sponsorship. Donors who give as little as $25 get a VIP admission to the fireworks party area at Open Space Park, with complimentary hot dogs, soda and chips, and a cash bar for beer and wine.

Yeah, that was us at last year's fireworks!

Yeah, that was us at last year’s fireworks!

Karen, Liz and I went last year, and had a great time. Best fireworks-watching venue I think I’ve ever been to!

You can learn more about the effort at the Traverse City City Boom Boom Club  website,   www.tcboomboom.org/ or their Facebook page, www.facebook.com/TraverseCityBoomBoomClub. Contributions can be made on line or by check to the Cherry Festival Foundation/Boom Boom Club at  250 E. Front St., Traverse City, MI  49684.



The Cherry Blossoms Appear — and so does the National Cherry Festival

This is how it should look by Saturday!

This is how it should look by Saturday!


I saw my first cherry blossom today – and by the end of the week I’m pretty sure there’ll be billions more.

Here in Traverse City, the annual blossoming of the cherries is a big deal. We have more than two million cherry trees ranged along the steep glacial ridges above Grand Traverse Bay, Lake Leelanau and Lake Michigan. When they’re in bloom, they’re like battalions of tidy white clouds set against the bright green grass, the fat gold dandelions and the cobalt blue waters.

It’s a beautiful sight, but it’s also a time for worry because cherry farming is a big part of what we do here. Cherries have been part of the Traverse City experience ever since the first cherry tree was planted here in 1852. Over the years, cherry orchards began to spread across the hills of the Old Mission and Leelanau Peninsulas, and today the Traverse City area produces over 75 percent of the world’s tart cherries.

Cherry  Blossoms in Leelanau

Last year’s bloom came very early, thanks to an extremely warm spell in March. It was lovely, but it was followed by killing frosts that pretty much wiped out the 2012 crop. This year things seem to be proceeding normally; we had a very cool March and April, and spring is being very coy – the way she usually is in this part of the world.

The middle of May is when the cherry trees usually start blooming, and I’m thinking we’ll be right on schedule this year. So I felt relaxed enough this morning to wander over to the “sneak preview” press conference for the National Cherry Festival, which is now in its 87th season.

This year’s Cherry Festival will kick off on Saturday, June 29 — a week earlier than usual – with a Festival Air Show, Bay Side entertainment, and lots of tasty cherry treats. The change was made so that Independence Day festivities could be included, since many residents and visitors have come to expect to celebrate the two observances at the same time. The eight-day festival offers over 130 events and attractions,  including free air shows, concerts, two parades, daily kids events, the Festival of Races, and (of course) Cherry Pie Eating and Pit Spitting competitions for every age.

Handing out flags at last year's Cherry Festival Parade

Handing out flags at last year’s Cherry Festival Parade

I did manage to learn a few things while scarfing down some cherry brats and a massive wedge of crumb-crust cherry pie. For one thing, the opening day air shows over West Bay will include a first-ever night show, immediately following the evening outdoor concert by Styx (You probably already heard about that concert; Foreigner, Montgomery Gentry, Aaron Tippin and Jana Kramer will also be performing on the Bayside stage that week.)

I’m trying to imagine what an air show would look like in the dark, and I think it could be fairly amazing.

Lest we forget: Little ruby globes of love...

Lest we forget: Little ruby globes of love…

Other news: Mitch Albom will be the guest at the festival’s National Writer Series event, while TV handyman/heartthrob Carter Oosterhouse will be back to help supervise his new Carter’s Kids fitness run. But honestly, the centerpiece of the festival is still all the fun, mostly free games and activities and parades and shows that happen all week long and make this one of my favorite annual Traverse City traditions. (And so far, my favorite musical group is the local Simon & Garfunkel tribute band Old Friends; they played at today’s presser, and darned if some of them really weren’t old friends. Well, middle-aged friends, at least.)

Want more information about the festival? You can go to their website at www.cherryfestival.org.