This Festival, Michigan Is Chary, Not Cheery, Over Cherries

Suppose this week was the Colorado Springs Ponderosa Pine Festival? Or the Tom Cruise/Katie Holmes Glorious Nuptials Saturnalia? Or the Anderson Cooper: CNN’s Most Eligible Bachelor Gala ?

The desolate pall of funk that would hang over such clambakes pales in comparison to what’s probably going to happen later this week in Traverse City, where the annual National Cherry Festival must contend with harvest statistics so bad that Brad Wendzel, president and industrial sales manager of Coloma Frozen Foods, likens the situation to the United States using up all our oil reserves, then nuking the refineries.

Consider the Source…

March, 2012: Woodward at Grand Blvd.

I remember back in March when the mercury unexpectedly soared, and the subsequent jubilation of Michigan’s naïve public.  It was like Armistice Day, V-E Day and Tigers-Winning-The-World-Series-Day all rolled into one; people were dancing in the streets and throwing ticker tape from the Fisher Building; street parties broke out; men were roasting entire steer over trash can fires, corpses in graveyards began to reanimate, tellers were standing on bank steps  handing out fifty dollar bills to random passersby and normally prudish women were having sex with total strangers.  In public.

Me, I sat back in my dark, cold little boudoir and shook my head: As my Yiddish grandmother used to say, ‘If things are going good, bupkis?  That’s bad.’  Anyway, I’ve lived here long enough to know that when it comes to the weather, Michigan people have no right to be anything but morose, downcast, angry and suicidally suspicious.  The other shoe will always drop, and when it does, it is going to be full of holes and smell like Chaz Bono’s sweatpants.

Sure enough, it stayed warm just long enough for all the tart cherry trees to blossom, then clammed up again, killing more than 80% of the crop.  What would normally be a harvest of 180 million pounds will be lucky if it hits 20.

And don’t go snickering with schadenfreude, Ye Rest of Nation: Michigan accounts for nearly three-quarters of all tart cherries sold in the United States, including yours.  Prices are already up about 50%; any more lip out of you and we’ll make it 60%.

(For the bi-curious—biology, you perv—the reason that tart cherries are more susceptible to the cold than sweet cherries is that they go through something called a ‘water bud stage’ wherein, if the water freezes, it’s phhhhht.  Sweet cherries, which were far less devastated by the weather this year, appear to skip or minimize this step).

Traverse City National Cherry Festival, July 7 – 14, 2012

A week from today, will they be sobbing into their cherry juice?  Well, probably, because said bevvie will likely be at least partly shored up with juice from Washington cherries.  As our biggest American rival in this market, that’s a little like begging for a few spare defensemen from Ohio State because of a flu epidemic pummeling the Wolverine locker room.

At least in Washington—so long as you eliminate such abominations as ‘gooey duck’, ‘hella’ and ‘chull’—they speak the King’s good English.  Cherry Republic, the gourmet, cherry-centric retail shop, has done the unthinkable: They bought tart cherries from Poland.

“It’s a temporary necessity,” Cherry Republic prez Bob Sutherland insisted in a recent Detroit News article.  “We did it to keep our employees busy.”

Nothing against Polish tarts—Scarlett Johansson, with a slightly compromised cherry, is one on her mom’s side—but if it has come to that, then possibly the sixth angel has already poured his vial upon the great river Euphrates and unclean spirits have come out of the mouth of the dragon.  N’est-ce pas?


‘The Show Must Go On’: Festival Media Relations Director Susan Wilcox-Olson

Susan Wilcox-Olson

“Our local crop was damaged extensively, but we will have fresh cherries during the festival,” said Wilcox-Olson in a fear-diffusing rah-rah-rah . “Anyone who wants cherries won’t go without.”

Alrighty, then.  The Festival, named one of the top ten in the United States by USA Today every year for the past decade, will carry on using cherries from Poland, from the North Pole, from the Pole Star if required.  And frankly, nobody would even know the difference if it wasn’t for blabbermouth scribes like yours truly.

Events that will rock your world will include a 21 mile TART (Traverse Area Recreation and Transportation; ouch) Cherry Bike Tour, the Emmy Award-winning Bihlman Brothers on the Bay Side Music Stage (along with Pop Evil, Finding Clyde and Wayland), several cherry pie eating contests, the very cool Old Town Classic Vehicle Show featuring cars, trucks and motorcycles from the Midwest—and none from Poland.

However, if I was going to cherry-pick, the one ‘can’t miss’ event is the Festival Air Show on July 8 featuring top gun maneuvers over West Grand Traverse Bay by Black Diamond Jet Team, Team RV and the U.S. Coast Guard as they offer a glimpse of how they’re spending their $553 billion annual military budget, a little of which might be deflected toward federal disaster aid because of fruit crop damage in northwest Michigan.

I mean, something to consider before you cheer the big bad planes too loudly.

Drowning Sorrows: Every Cloud Has a Cherry-Red Lining

I have been a lifelong lover of and lobbyist for cherry wine, and I make no bones about it.  It is part of the heritage of my favorite state—if I lived in Nunavut, I’d probably be ballyhooing whale blubber wine—but the point is, the stuff can be sublime, especially when vinified dry.  My hands down favorite is Good Harbor’s, but I’ll tell you, they are making some killer product at Chateau Grand Traverse, where six different kinds are offered; one is blended with riesling, one with lemon, lime, pineapple, banana and orange, and one spiced-up as a Christmassy gluhwineChateau Chantal produces a sensational sparkling version; Cherry Creek does a semi-sweet cherry wine with a 3% residual.  Chateau de Leelanau is another one to try.  The secret, I’m told, is a judicious blend of several cherry cultivars, noteably Balaton and Morello—save the Montmorencies for pie.

Ironically, Michigan cherry wines are made almost exclusively from frozen cherries, so they really weren’t affected by the April deep freeze that massacred this year’s crop.

And there you have it.  I guess in the end, in all its sappy sad serendipity, life is just a bowl of Polish cherries.

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