My Search for Sour Cherries

| February 18, 2005 | 38 Comments
  • 38 Comments

Every year for the past 5 or 6 years I’ve made a decision to find fresh sour cherries in the Bay Area. It has never happened for me. I’ve either missed it by a week, or no one knows anyone who grows them. So this year, I decided to start early. Very early. And do a lot of research. First, however, I’ll take a step back and offer up a few facts.

Also called tart or “pie” cherries, the most popular variety of sour cherries grown in the United States is the Montmorency. They are harvested in the hot summer month of July. And while they are primarily grown in Michigan and New York, there are surely other sour cherry farmers sprinkled throughout the U.S. Sour cherries are quite easy to find in Europe. Just walk down any street in Paris in the summer and the produce bins are spilling over with sour cherries. That doesn’t help me. Who is going to go to Paris and bake a cherry pie? Okay, maybe I’ll have to resort to this, but for now, I’ve decided that I need to find them closer to home.

My pursuit was rekindled recently when I came across a jar of Bulgarian sour cherries in light syrup. I used them in a delicious cherry tart (see the recipe below). But instead of quelling the fire, it just stoked it further. A jar of cherries shipped halfway across the world is just not the same as using the real thing. I started asking farmers at the market (no luck). I emailed CUESA, the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture, which manages the SF Ferry Plaza Farmers’ Market (still haven’t heard back, I’ll let you know what I hear). I googled SF sour cherries, Bay Area sour cherries, west coast sour cherries? I searched the internet. I asked friends. I started looking into planting a tree. They are difficult to keep alive. Okay, so I’m a little obsessive.

So now I need your help. I’ve only got 4 1/2 months. Do you know someone who grows sour cherries? Can you hook me up?

Sour Cherry Tart

FOR THE DOUGH
2 cups flour
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup butter
1 egg yolk
5-7 tablespoons ice cold water

FOR THE FILLING
2 large jars Bulgarian sour cherries in light syrup (you should have about 3 heaping cups of cherries without juice)*
1/4 cup flour
2/3 cup sugar

1 egg, well beaten
Sugar for sprinkling

To make the dough, put the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl of a food processor and pulse a few times to mix. Add the butter and pulse until the butter is about the size of large peas. Stir in the egg yolk and water with a spoon. Dump the mixture onto a work surface and knead just until the dough comes together. Form into a disk, wrap with plastic and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375F. Roll out 2/3 of the dough and line a 9-inch tart pan with a removeable bottom, letting the excess dough hang over the edge. Roll the rolling pin over the edge. Add the dough scraps to the remaining dough and roll into a rectangle, about 10 inches long and 8 inches wide. Cut out about 10 strips of equal width.

Drain the cherries, saving about 1/2 cup of juice. Put the cherries into a bowl. Mix the reserved juice with the flour and strain over the cherries. Stir in the sugar. Pour the cherries into the lined tart, making an even layer. Place 5 of the dough strips, evenly spaced, over the top of the tart. Place the remaining 5 strips perpendicular to the first 5 strips. Using a pastry brush, brush the dough strips with the beaten egg. Sprinkle with sugar. Place the tart pan on a baking sheet and bake the tart until golden brown and the filling is bubbly, about 50 minutes. If the top crust starts to get too brown, cover it loosely with a sheet of foil. Let cool slightly on a wire rack before serving. Serve with a big scoop of vanilla ice cream.

*Please don’t use canned cherries. Ick. If you are lucky, you might find frozen sour cherries, but don’t hold your breath.

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Category: baking and bakeries, Bay Area Bites Food + Drink

About the Author ()

Kim Laidlaw is a cookbook author, editor, food writer, producer, project manager, and baker who has been in the kitchen covered in flour since she was big enough to stir the biscuit dough. She has over 16 years of experience in book and online publishing, and a lifetime of experience in the kitchen. Her first cookbook, Home Baked Comfort, was published in 2011; her second cookbook, Baby & Toddler On the Go, was published in April 2013; and her third cookbook, Williams-Sonoma Dessert of the Day, was published in October 2013. She was the first blogger on KQED’s Bay Area Bites blog, which launched in 2005, and previously worked as a professional baker at La Farine French Bakery in Oakland, CA. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their toddler, whom she cooks for everyday. Find out more at http://www.kimlaidlaw.com.
  • Amy Sherman

    I’ve never seen sour cherrries fresh in the Bay Area. You could try Farm Trails. There aren’t any sour cherry orchards listed on their site, but it never hurts to ask…

    Sonoma County Farm Trails
    PO Box 6032
    Santa Rosa, CA 95406
    Phone: (707) 571-8288
    Toll Free:(800) 207-9464
    Fax: (707) 571-7719
    farmtrails@farmtrails.org

  • Anonymous

    We have a sour cherry tree in Los Altos that has given us as much a 70 lbs in a season. Everyone keeps telling us that sour cherries won’t grow here….but try telling that to this tree! We freeze pies, make jam, freeze fruit for winter use, and share with some friends. What’s the quantity you are after?

  • Kim Goodfriend

    Wow – that’s great to hear! Since I wrote this I actually found a farmer who grows them, but they didn’t have a good crop this year and typically don’t even try to sell them at the farmers’ market, even though they have lots of requests for them. If you have any to spare I’d be thrilled to buy a pound or two or whatever you can part with. You can email me at kimgoodfriend@yahoo.com. Thanks!!!

  • Anonymous

    I really thought they couldn’t be grown in this area too… What kind of sour cherry tree is it? I’m curious what varieties will grow here.

  • Alexandra

    I spotted sour cherries today at Berkeley Bowl! They are near the sweet cherries…

  • Anonymous

    I live in Texas and I am desperate to find a farm in texas or any where in US that would ship sour cherries. I can plant a cherry tree in the back yard if have only known which nursury to buy from and what kind of cherry will grow in Texas (if it ever will). My email is izilber@yahoo.com Thanks.

  • ma brown

    We spend some time in Roseburg, oregon. f it’s not too far, you could call Kuse Farms (farmstand) they wuld definately have them. MA Brown

  • Anonymous

    Tart (or sour) cherries do better with cold winters and are not grown in as many places as they once were. They need a long period of winter dormancy to produce an abundant crop the next spring. Michigan grows 80% of the crop now, with most of the rest in Wisconsin and New York.

    The European sour cherries is a different type altogether than the traditional American sour pie cherry, which is the Montmorency variety. It has much more tang and character than the European varieties. It is an ancient variety brought here by early French settlers.

    Several family cherry orchards in Michigan and Wisconsin sell tart cherries online. Just Google for “tart cherries.”

    I am looking out over our orchards of Montmorency sour cherry trees here in northern Michigan as I write this. Buy from a grower if you can. They re-invest back into more trees and land.

  • robartin

    We used to pick sour and Bing cherries every year in Leona Valley north of Los Angeles. There are quite a few orchards there. There is a lot of competition for the sour cherries though and not many orchards grow them – most prefer the Bing cherries. Check out this website for more information:

    http://www.cherriesupic.com/

    I moved back to Georgia and have been looking for a source of cherries – finally I just decided to buy my own trees. The National Arbor Day Foundation (www.arborday.org) sells several varieties of sour cherries. I am going to try the Early Richmond.

  • Sophia

    I have been looking for tart cherries for years as well. You can’t even find the tart cherries in a can anymore. I read this blog last summer, After the cherry season. So I hope I am in time to find someone or some place that could supply them. If there are any new ideas, from someone living in the bay area. Let me know.

    SophiaStrandberg@aol.com

  • Anonymous

    I’m in Chicago and Whole Foods carries them when they are in season. They are pricy, but well worth it!

  • Anonymous

    On the east coast try
    http://www.smolakfarms.com/
    North Andover MA
    early july

  • Anonymous

    Amy,
    I live in Nevada, 4 hours from San Francisco. I have a huge sour cherry tree and also a small one. I have more cherries than I need and they are beautiful and ripe right now. My neighbor also has a tree with plenty. Are you still looking? We are alot closer than any of the other responses.

  • happy consumptive

    The Lagier Ranches stand at the Grand Lake Farmer’s Market had sour cherries this past week and the week before. $4.00 a pound. The nice guy who operates the stand said that they they were done for the year though. Still, wouldn’t be completely surprised to find some next week.

  • Anonymous

    i am sure in any persian grocery store they have it at this time. I’m in los angels and they are selling it. maybe you can find persian grocery store in sf

  • Adina

    I am in Los Angeles also..and the persian grocery store close to my house doesn’t have them and never did.Can you please tell me what’s the name of the store and/or give me a phone nr. so I can call and get their address?..Thanks so much!

  • Anonymous

    Hi It’s Emese from Arizona.
    I just found it on the net and called this farm in MIchigan- King Orchards. They said they will harvest the sour cherries in a couple of weeks and they can ship them fresh. I believe it’s $3 a pound + shipping. I will definetly order some , they took my number to notify me when they will have them.They also have canned and jam etc.
    Here is the number 1877 9375464.

  • Beth Alper

    I love the Internet! Imagine, other people who love sour cherries as much as I do! Heard an NPR report last week about sour cherries from a farm in Bethlehem, PA. Last year I got them at the Union Square market in NYC (from Beth’s Farm Kitchen, Stuyvesant Falls, NY 800-331-JAMS) and dragged them back to my home in Phila on the train, hoping to re-create my Russian grandmother’s sour cherry strudel. It was an unbelievably delicious recipe that died with her. I’ve tried to make it with sweet cherries and it tastes dull, but the sour cherries made it fabulous. Wish they were found more easily in the States. I hope your quest has been fruitful (ouch, bad pun)…

  • Anonymous

    My mom found some at the Sigona’s Farmers Market at the Stanford mall in Palo Alto a few days ago.

  • Anonymous

    Nothing helpful re cherry search – but a story. I live in NYC – Queens, home of Ray Romano, Jerry Seinfeld and Antonin Scalia (which is the biggest joker?) also, the recent home to many sour cherry trees including one famous one in my folks’ backyard, that split of its own weight on June 16, 1966. The whole neighborhood climbed around the fallen limbs to gather the last batch of sour cherries – apparently known to man. After forty years of nostalgia induced mouth watering for MY mother’s delicious cobbler – I broke down to search the net and bumped into all of you cherryless people. Funny that I spent 17 years in the Bay Area and never found one of these at any farmer’s or flea market – and I looked hard. I eventually moved back to NYC with my family just to find them… (had you there didn’t I?) Since I work on Long Island you would think that these cherry trees are within throwing distance – but no. Unfortunately, many of the people around here hate trees -especially if things fall off of them – like leaves – (republicans)and usually are compelled to cut at least one down upon moving into a “new” home. Hence the trees are gone. I guess we can all become Johnny Sour-Cherry Seeds – if we can find a damn pit.

    Michael -

  • Melissa

    O you sour cherry lovers! I live in Leona Valley, Ca. Guess what? My hubby and I own a small orchard of sour cherry trees, which are ripe and ready to be picked as we speak. (well, tomorrow, anyway).

    We are the only orchard left with sours, and we have three varities: Montmorency, the traditional “pie cherry,” the English Morello, known by our Persian customers as “albaloo,” and our newest trees are Balaton, am import from Hungary.

    We are unable to ship them, and really, they are so perishible, most stores are unwilling to bother with them.

    Anyone who wishes may call us at Cherry Tyme (661) 270-0649. Leona Valley is a northern suburb of Los Angeles, and yes, we actually do have all four seasons.

  • Anonymous

    I live in Washington State, (Olympia), and I have a dwarf sour (pie) cherry tree, of the Montmorency variety. I purchased my tree a few years ago from Stark Brothers – they have a catalog and ship nationwide.

    Last year almost all of the blossoms got knocked off by hail, but this year I had a double bumper crop – I picked buckets of them and gave quite a few of them away, froze some, and then I’m making a cherry pie. It is true – these cherries are delicate and do not transport well. However, they are VERY juicy!

  • Leona

    Hi,

    just yesterday I bought sour cherries in Mountain View:-) Try Rose Market Iranian Store on Castro Street in Mountain View.
    And there is another place where you can live your phone number so they will be able to inform you about sour cherry shipments. It’s a J.Olson store(I’m not sure about the name, sorry)in Sunnyvale. It’s right on El Camino street near Cherry Orchard Apartments:-)

    Last year I saw them on Farmer’s Market in Los Altos.

    Good luck!

  • Michelle in Texas

    FINALLY we just found an online source for FROZEN pitted sour cherries:

    http://cherrystop.com/

    My husband and I also had been looking for years, and until now could only find institutional-size supplies for sale online. The Cherry Stop sells four 20-oz bags in an order.

    We found a pick-your-own cherry orchard when we lived in MA, I think it was in the 1990′s. And once a gourmet farm stand in Acton,MA had fresh sour cherries. And my mother-in-law found some in her freezer that she guessed must have been picked 18 year ago in Iowa. They made a good tasting pie despite being faded. That’s what inspired us to search one more time, and finally find them available.

    Our first order arrived yesterday, and we’ve already made the first pie and eaten half! Next, I’m eager to make cherry jam. You just can’t buy this intense flavor in ready-made pies and jams.

  • Anonymous

    Gotta love the internet. I was just sitting here lamenting the fact that I can’t go to the store and by pie cherries. I moved to New England 10 years ago from Oregon and not only didn’t they know what sour cherries were, they actually make cherry pie with sweet cherries! They do the same with apples. I now take pies to every event that requires food. People rave about my pies. Without fail someone comes up to me and says, “I have to have your recipe.” I hate to admit it’s just the tart fruit but…

    My (now famous) cherry pie recipe is: enough pitted pie cherries to fill the pie plate (full–they cook down some), 1 cup of sugar (either white or brown), 3 tablespoons of tapioca (for thickening). Put above mixture in pie crust, dab with butter, cover with lattice or a cut top-crust. Bake 10 minutes at 450, then 40 minutes at 350.

    I guess I need to be patient a little longer. I recommend the Montmorency too. I planted mine when I first moved here and last year picked 39 pounds.

  • Z.Chef

    Waou, i just finished writing a post on Sour cherries on my blog when i encountered yours…I would have sent you tons of sour cherries!!…I’m a private chef in new york city and my boss grows sour cherries in his country estate. Every year i get tons of it. Keep in touch, he might bring me a fresh batch this week!
    I love your blog by the way!

  • Anonymous

    hi

    there are sour cherries at the Whole Foods in Walnut Creek (probably others too) right now – $6. lb and sold i 2 lb containers
    good luck sour cherrie fans.

  • Anonymous

    I have ordered frozen Balatons from Engle Ridge Farm (www.michiganbalaton.com) and I know that Friske Orchards will ship frozen Montmorency (www.apples-cherries.com). The cherries are reasonably priced but shipping is VERY expensive if you don’t leave in a state close to Michigan because they will go by air. I have an extra freezer so I ordered 40 lbs. and didn’t share them with anyone unless they really loved sour cherries! Back in the 90′s I bought them frozen at a Walmart in Missouri. I have not seen them in any retail grocery store since then, and when I have requested them the grocers have told me they can’t find a source.

  • NinaK

    I found sour cherries this year in NYC at Barzini’s at 90th and B’way. They come from Geneva, New York (upstate). I am about to try a cherry pie. I have never found sour cherries before, so it will be interesting to see how it turns out compared with sweet cherries.

  • Anonymous

    I sure wish I still lived in Western Canada for the Cherry reason. Many orchards grow the sour cherries and also ornamental cherry trees grow on the coast. There are pretty cold winters where the sour cherries are grown (below freezing) but not on the coast. I picked them one year for cash and the biggest problem is birds getting them. I have also seen them online dried with no sugar so you could just soak them back to original moisture content. Weird that they dont’ come frozen???!!

  • Elisa

    I can’t believe how GREAT it is to find SOUR cherries!!!! I grew up in NY with a tree in our backyard. The fruit was AMAZING. I didn’t even know any other cherries existed until I was in my 20s! I’m in Virginia now – still looking for those cherries, but will contact the web sites & 800 numbers to order fresh ones. IF anyone wants to mail some fresh ones in the summer, I’ll send you some baked goods…..Elisa :)morrell@sigmongroup.com

  • Anonymous

    There is a fruit market in San Francisco, on Church St and I believe 30th, which sells dried sour cherries. During summer, Berkley Bowl has fresh sour cherries. The first time I saw them I almost passed out. I think I bought like 5 pounds of the stuff.

  • Claudia

    My husbund and I own a small sour cherry orchard in the foothills. (El Dorado county, CA)

    If you are interested in buying some this summer please send me a quick e-mail, and we will put you on the list. I don’t know how far I could ship them, but we could deliver to San Francisco, and the Peninsula. I also freeze them, make jam and juice and so.

  • cherrylady

    Sorry, forgot to leave my e-mail:

    info@tricoloresf.com

    I’m looking forward to a good harvest.

  • Patrick C

    Nunn Better Farms in Brentwood has them now for you to pick. They are small but juicy. Also Bachinni’s has about a dozen trees but they were picked out as of June 10th.

  • Charlene

    In the midwest some of the Amish grow sour cherries and freeze them. Check out a Amish grocery store. They probably don’t have internet. The one I go to has gas lanterns for lighting.

  • http://tricoloresf.com Claudia

    We have a great crop of montmercy sour cherries this year (July 2010) We are selling them in small amounts, please call 650-704-4533 or 650576-5866.
    or email.
    Pick up possible in Redwood city or San Francisco, or Cameron Park

    Claudia

  • Annie

    It is now 2011 and I don’t know how your sour/pie cherry quest has gone but I just now found your site because I am now searching for canned pie cherries. Michigan is the star for sour cherries – the best – but I am very sad to say that the market for sour cherries has really been hurt over the years. Cherry growers have just been pummeled with low demand, bad weather and over-development during the housing boom which displaced beautiful, wonderful orchards with McMansions and/or grape growing for the pervasive and invasive vineyards. The world does not need even one more wine producer; the world needs more cherry pie, cherry cobbler, cherry jam!! Michigan’s traditional marvelous orchards are becoming a rare thing and it is VERY sad and a case of “you don’t know what you’ve got until you lose it” so folks, buy Michigan tart cherries often and plenty!! Now, after decades of making cherry pies from fresh cherries from our little valiant tree, from frozen Michigan tart cherries, from canned Michigan tart cherries, suddenly I am finding it hard to find tart cherries. We must have our cherry pies! At the grocery store that has sold canned tart cherries for years, they now barely have any and each 15 oz. can – one can – was almost $3.00! That makes for a mighty expensive pie. I love to support our local cherry (and apple and other Michigan produce) growers, but I fear I’m getting priced out of pie, and that is disheartening, indeed. What is also killing mail-order cherry (and other frozen products) sales is the cost of shipping that went through the roof a few years back. Shipping costs are now as much as the products themselves, making it all cost prohibitive. Tart cherry lovers need to DO something about this unhappy turn of events! Stop drinking so much wine and start eating more pie, for starters!