Our home in Morgan Hill is located in what was known for hundreds of years as the “Valley of Heart’s Delight”. How beautiful is that? Well, here’s a little history, if you can stand it. The original colonial population of California, established in 1776, was descended from Spanish explorers, seafarers, and priests of the Franciscan order.
These original settlers found the Santa Clara Valley to be a hospitable and fruitful landscape and built ranchos, estancias and haciendas. The first citizen of the United States of America, Phillip Doak, settled here in 1822, marrying into the wealthy Spanish land grant Castro family. It has been estimated that in 1830 there were no more than 100 “foreigners” in the whole of California, at that time a Mexican territory.
Then came the the Mexican American War and the California Gold Rush in the late 1800’s. In 1846 the raising of the Bear Flag and the relatively bloodless conquest of California led to the first international boundary being drawn between the U.S. and Mexico by treaty. In the meantime, immigrants from England, Scotland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Italy and Croatia had discovered the fecund Santa Clara Valley and had begun planting crops, orchards and vineyards on what had been primarily cattle-grazing land.
Incidentally, dry farming, a practice used by those early farmers in order to cope with our seasonal droughts, has recently enjoyed a comeback — particularly in the wine industry — due to concerns about dwindling water supplies and other conservation issues.
Our local “rare fruit” grower, Andy Mariani, is a descendant of Croatian immigrants who decided to grow the exotic heirloom stone fruit that was common in the days before cross-country shipping forced growers to cultivate hybrids for pack-ability. When his father, Joseph Mariani, arrived in the Santa Clara Valley in the prohibitionist era of the 1930s, it was high “dry time”. The valley had, up until that time, been wine country; but Mariani noted the fertile land’s possibilities for growing fruit and set about planting fruit trees.
Andy has continued and elevated this tradition by maintaining one of the largest collections of stone fruit trees on the West Coast, employing “old world” techniques as well as new agricultural research to keep his orchard diverse and sustainable. For more on Andy’s determination and horticultural wizardry, check out this article in Gourmet Magazine.
Now we get to the cherry part. In addition to his mouth-watering plums, pluots, peaches, apricots and nectarines, which we devour throughout the summer, we especially look forward to late May, when Andy begins harvesting his amazing array of cherries. Starting with the very early Brooks, our absolute favorite, we enjoy the Bings, Rainiers, Black Tartarians, Lapins, Stellas and other cherry varietals that are only available in early spring. And, because Andy insists that his fruit be picked by hand and only when ripe, every piece of fruit is truly irresistible!
We visit Andy’s Orchard once or twice a week throughout the spring and summer. We taste, we talk, we walk, we ask what will be harvested tomorrow or next week, and we take home as much as we can eat, share, and preserve for a cherry pie, a clafoutti, a jam or a syrup. But, most importantly, we thank Andy for his perseverance, his passion for maintaining the diversity of heirloom fruit, and for resisting suburban sprawl in the Valley of Hearts Delight.