Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries!

22 May
Brooks cherries are sweet and early!

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.

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6 Responses to “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries!”

  1. Aralena May 22, 2010 at 10:29 am #

    very interesting, Lisa! We inherited a big cherry tree that sits right outside of our bedroom window — I could almost reach out and pick a cherry!

    This post also reminded me of our foray into the Croatian community of Santa Clara. Remember when we went to that festival a couple years back? So much rich history and food where you live!

    • ruminski May 22, 2010 at 6:41 pm #

      Lucky you! I will be thinking of you this afternoon when I make my Cherry Clafoutti! Yes, I remember our lovely time at the Croatian Harvest Festival…my friend Leo invites me every year, but we haven’t been back.

  2. Dan May 24, 2010 at 8:05 pm #

    I very much liked the article in Gourmet about Andy Mariani.
    I would dearly like to know whether or not sour cherries (the bomb for pie) can be grown in CA. I have only found them canned here, whereas in Ohio I spent most of my young life in a sour cherry tree. I don’t even know which strains are sour, but would love.
    Dan

    • ruminski May 24, 2010 at 8:20 pm #

      Hi Dan! Yes, sour cherries, such as Montmorency, can be grown in Central California. They are usually self-fruitful but check for chill time requirements. Do you remember that huge pie cherry tree next to Kate’s driveway in Edmunds? I’m going to plant a couple of them next year. Come up and see our new orchard when you can!

  3. Denise June 3, 2010 at 4:21 am #

    I did not know sour cherries could be grown here. You grow em Lisa and I’ll come pick em and make pies (with Anita’s secret pie crust recipe). They are one of the things I miss the most about the Pacific Northwest.

    PS – I agree, life is a chair full of bowlies (old family joke)!

    • ruminski June 4, 2010 at 3:26 pm #

      Love that old family joke, Denise, and you betcha you can take and bake pies! I remember your Mom bringing fresh pie cherries with her on the plane just to make pies at your house.

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