We created this jam so fast, we outdid the labels! We needed to have them printed ahead of time and we were conservative on the hang-tag. We said picked on 8/1 and put on the store shelves on 8/6.
But the actual story of our Montmorency Preserves Nouveau is better: Picked on August 4; on the shelves two days later.
This is a triumph for our little company that works to get as close to the orchard and as close to the taste of fresh-picked cherries as possible. We’re not sure if we can get any closer than two days from the tree to the stores!
Like almost all of our products, the story of Montmorency Nouveau Preserves begins in the orchards of northern Michigan.
Dean and Gene Velliquette are two of the biggest cherry farmers in the country. They own or lease over 2,000 acres of land. Theirs is a low farm that gets hit by frost in many years, but as we walked the orchard, Dean was happy with what he saw. “It isn’t a bumper harvest in here, but it’ll do,” he said.
As is the tradition in the cherry industry, each summer we rely on teenagers for many important roles. The boy cleaning out the cherry tanks was 15. The boy driving the shaker was 17 and the kid driving the fork tractor was 16. That’s three quarters of the shaking crew! The only adult is Tommy Coronado, Cherry Ke’s manager, and he started working 27 years ago at the age of 15 himself.
The cherries seemed exceptionally ripe this season. Montmorencies were sizing small in early July, so many farmers left the fruit on the tree for a few extra days to see if they’d fatten up. It’s working. The cherries we saw in this orchard are perfect in size and color! And flavor too!
The longer the cherries are left on the tree to ripen, the more that fall when the shakers come through. The trees were bare after the tractors were done with them. It is always this balance of waiting as long as possible for peak ripeness, but risking a big rain or windstorm cracking or bruising the cherry.
There is nothing more beautiful than cherries flying off the tree and into the shaker. The average tree has about 100 pounds of cherries on them. Those tanks hold 1000 pounds of cherries.
All together, we harvested the cherries from about 45 trees to make our Montmorency Nouveau Preserves. After the cherries were pitted, we had 3,240 pounds of cherries. That turned into 4,800 16 oz jars of jam.
Renovated old school buses are Cherry Ke’s answer to finding an affordable truck to move cherries from the orchard to the cooling pads and then to the processing plants. Some of these fancy trucks are nearly 40 years old. Cherry Ke has about 25 of them.
The cooling pad is a very important part of the harvest. Cherries need to be cooled to around 50 degrees as fast as possible to stop the cherries from browning. Also, the colder the cherry the firmer the flesh gets and the less juice Cherry Ke loses when they are pitted.
The cherries were rushed to the cherry pitter on Tuesday. We don’t see the pitter in action. But imagine rows and rows of tiny cherry sized bowls. The cherries roll into the bowls and then rows and rows of tiny spikes drop down from above and punch the pit out of the bowl. 360,000 pounds of cherries were pitted to make our jam!
Our jam makers came to work on Wednesday with 4 tanks of freshly pitted cherries waiting for them at our factory. We added some pectin and sugar and heated up the kettles.
And by noon, I was placing still-hot jam on our store shelves in Glen Arbor.
But as I was placing it on the shelves, I was talking to the customers in the store about this special jam. Each time I tried to place one on the shelf, somebody grabbed it out of my hands!
I guess I knew we had a winner then—when customers are grabbing it before I can even get it to the shelves!
This is a testament to cooperation and hard work within the cherry industry. Thanks to great farmers like Gene and Dean and all the hardworking staff at Cherry Ke. Thanks to TJ Keyes at Triple D (they pitted the cherries). And finally, thanks to all the staff at Cherry Republic who planned and executed this new product from idea, to concept, to schedule, to production, to jar, label and store shelves.
Overall, 32 people at Cherry Republic had a hand in bringing these Montmorency Preserves Nouveau to you.
Updated August 8: Bob Paetz sent us this photo of himself enjoying the first jar of Montmorency Preserves Nouveau. Looking good, Bob!