In Washington's Wenatchee Valley, there are lots of orchards. Pears, apples, apricots. And cherries. Bing, Rainier (what used to be my favorite) and my new favorite, Orondo Ruby. The family growing Rubies invited some food writers to taste and see. I cleared my schedule because I can't think of anything better than standing in an orchard with my camera around my neck, pulling sun-warmed cherries off the tree and into my mouth. Twist my arm.
About 10 years ago, Marcus, the orchardist, noticed one of his Rainier Cherry trees that was not like the others. He had it tested and, sure enough, the cherries were genetically different. They had gone and done their own thing, and the rest is history.
We were shown graphs of the sugar content in Orondo Rubies (high) and the acid content (high), which makes for a magical pop in the mouth. I didn't need the graphs, though. I had 4 pounds of them in the car when I hit the road for home, and hardly enough left to make anything with when I pulled into the driveway!
We had a progressive dinner at Pybus Market, an old steel mill turned permanent farmer's market. (So inspiring to see what reclamation of space can do for a community.) Orondo Ruby salsa and martinis at South, pizza with goat cheese, cherries and buckboard bacon at Fire, crispy pork belly with pickled cherries at Pybus Bistro. And the next morning, breakfast on the farm with bowls of cherries everywhere.
This time of year, I always find myself so thankful for farmers and so in awe of all the work, care, and risk that puts such bounty on my table. Every little detail of these trees is fussed over all year long for three furious weeks of harvest. While I'm sleeping in or taking a little summer vacation, farmers everywhere are losing sleep, crunching the numbers, monitoring each tree or plant or vine for health, readiness, and deliciousness. When I think of how much bandwidth goes to the three tomato plants I have on my deck, I'm even more amazed. I've heard recently of the agrarian imperative, the idea that acquisition of land for farming is in our genes, and that farmers are the only ones left (it used to be all of us) that are still responding to this imperative. And it's stressful! They take risks the rest of us wouldn't because they're driven by that imperative. I adore cooking. I adore being in my kitchen. But none of that is in a vacuum. Everything I chop, saute, or braise comes from somewhere, and it's another reason to know where it comes from and to feel good about my part in the cycle.
Okay. Down from soapbox. I really hate to do much with cherries besides eat them cold from the fridge. But I adored them on wood-fired pizza. And you know me--salad. I did not plan this recipe. It happened because I had a few precious cherries left and I wanted salad for lunch. Thank you, Orondo Ruby folks, for such a fabulous tour. I hope you get to rest soon!
Bitter Greens with Grilled Haloumi and Orondo Ruby Cherries
Serves one, but of course just throw in more of everything if you want more.
For salad: Heat a heavy skillet up. Lightly brush two thick slices of haloumi with oil oil. Grill until golden and warm in the middle. Set aside. Toss greens of choice (I used endive and kale) with slivered radishes, slivered proscuitto or cooked bacon, and a handful of halved cherries. Set haloumi on top.
For vinaigrette: Combine 1 Tb. white wine vinegar, 3 Tb. olive oil, salt and pepper, and 1 tsp. fruit preserves (I used strawberry). Add salt, pepper, and a haldful of halved cherries. Let macerate for a few minutes, then pour over your salad.