If you're in Southern California, please be advised that fruit hunter Akasha Richmond, the trans-cosmic talent behind my favorite Culver City resto Akasha, has sourced the only pick-your-own sour cherry orchard in Southern California. It's called Cherry Tyme Pie Cherries, because what they grow at this unique orchard is three kinds of sour cherries, the world's best baking and preserving cherry.
Today Akasha, Alan and I went to make our pick of the harvest. She wants to make pies. I need to put up a few more treats for Rosette, the Turkish Tigress, and for the divine Dmitri, the maitre d' at the Sunset Tower who hails from Macedonia and, as I recently learned, loves sweet preserves made from quince, Seville orange and, above all, sour cherries. ("When I was growing up, such jams and preserves were a part of every household," was the lovely way he put it.)
Cherry Tyme was like a gift for Akasha and me both. The orchard is hidden at the top of a dry canyon in the Leona Valley cherry-growing region near Palmdale. It's as near the sticks as one could get in Southern California, and yet it is unexpectedly cosmopolitan. Signage is posted in English, Turkish and Farci, and I heard at least two different Eastern European languages while we picked. Cherry eaters from all across Europe and Western Asia, you see, venerate the noble sour cherry.
Cherry Tyme's Orchard Keeper, a sort of living scarecrow dressed all in white, told us that his Eastern European clientele prefers the Ballaton variety as it most closely resembles the fruit of their homeland. Turkish and Persians pickers prefer the English Morello, the sourst of them all. And the Montmorency is, despite it's French name, the classic American sour cherry.
"Thousands of acres of them are planted in the upper peninsula of Michigan," said the Orchard Keeper. "They're so perishable, you'll never see them for sale. They're used for juice."
(The Ballaton is darker and firmer than the others, while the Morello is intensely red inside and out, and the Montmorency yellow-fleshed.)
Akasha, Alan and I went out into the orchard and began to pick.
"You don't know how I feel," said Akasha as she plucked the first ruby beads. "I feel like I'm putting gold nuggets in a bucket. This is the unattainable."
As the sun rose towards its noontime apex, the temperature climbed to almost 100. Our spirits were willing but the reality of the work soon overtook us all.
"Too bad this farm isn't air conditioned," said Akasha.
And by the time we'd picked a total of 39 pounds of cherries (about an hour), we had gained a new respect for the tremendous hard work required to bring fruit to the market. Akasha tried to add her labor into the price of the pies she'd make from her hand-picked Morellos—and the price spiraled to crazy heights.
"These pies should sell for $10 a slice," she cried out. "These pies should sell at auction."
Myself, I'd gladly bid. Before Akasha found Cherry Tyme, I didn't think there was a chance of finding sour cherries in SoCal at any price.
But jammers best hurry. The 2010 harvest is nearly over.
"We'll be wiped out this weekend," said the Orchard Keeper.
There's no Tyme to waste.