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Southwest Michigan may be a small part of the state but in terms of cherry production across the United States but—excuse our pun—it’s not small potatoes either.

“Northern Michigan is the big gorilla when it comes to cherries,” says Brad Wendzel of Coloma Frozen Foods.

Indeed, the area around Traverse City will produce around 165 million tart cherries.

“We’ll grow about 20 million this year,” continues Wendzel. “Washington State about 25 million and Utah about 50 million which is big for them.”

If 20 million tart seems miniscule in comparison, Wendzel puts it in perspective.

“We’re a small part of the state and yet this a big number,” he says.

But no matter where they’re grown in Michigan, the state is a cherry powerhouse ranking first in the nation in the production of Montmorency tart cherries and fourth in the production of sweet cherries according to! the Website Furthermore, 70-75% of Montmorency and 20% of sweet cherries grown in the U.S. come from Michigan.

This year’s hot weather has pushed the sweet cherry season forward and it’s beginning to wind down though you can still find them at the many farm stands in the area.

At Tree-mendous Fruit Farm in Eau Claire, Montmorency is the first of the tart cherry harvest followed by Balaton, Surefire, North Star and Meteor. Besides U-pick and buying them at the farm store (they have a pitter in the back for those who don’t mind missing out on that chore),they also produce such products as their sweet and tart cherry juices, cherry apple cider and their Cherry Britee—an intensely flavored topping for pancakes, waffles, cheese cake and ice cream which is the top seller at their farm’s Country Market.

“People can buy frozen Montmorency cherries, which are the bestselling tart variety in the country, from us year around,” s! ays Gary Wesolowski, manager at Tree-mendous.

At their big red barn, Stover’s sells frozen, pitted tart cherries for pies as well as dried cherries and such cherry products as salsa, cherry butter and combinations of cherries with amaretto and red raspberries for jams.

During the sweet cherry season, Tree-mendous offers 15 varieties.

“Our most popular is the Cavalier, a big black sweet cherry that is one of the first of the season,” says Wesolowski.

Tree-Mendous also has several more unique varieites including Regina, which Wesolowski describes as a reddish-purple black cherry with a very sweet taste with a crispy crunch. Other sweet varieites include Hartland, Sam, Rainier, Schmidt, Ulster, Royalton, Bing, Lapins and Hedelfingen. The latter is an old fashioned German variety that though sweet and tasty is sometimes hard to find.

“An up and coming cherry is the Jubilieum, a Hungarian variety grown throughout Europe,” he says. “It�! ��s black with a sweet tart taste and is great for making pies, juice and liqueurs. Another type of black Hungarian cherry that I think will become very popular is called Danube which we have only in small quantities right now.”

Joyel Timmreck, who won first place in the Dessert Category as well as the Grand Prize at the annual Eau Claire Cherry Festival Cherry Baking Contest, revised a recipe for White Chocolate Cherry Cheesecake that she’d found in a cookbook.

“I like cooking with cherries,” says Timmreck. “I was raised with cherries on the farm and they’re one of my favorite fruits.”

While we often think of using cherries for making desserts, Flo Sasak year took second place for her cherry meatballs--a combination of ground beef, oatmeal, her own recipe for salt substitute seasoning and diced maraschino cherries accompanied with a tart cherry and tomato sauce.

“Cherries can be very versatile,” she says noting that she tweaked a recipe s! he’s used in the past.

Because she’s trying to mostly healthy foods, Sasak says she created her salt substitution seasoning to avoid eating foods containing any ingredients that she can’t pronounce—a way to avoid odd sounding chemical names. The oatmeal addition to the meatballs is another way to add a healthy touch.

“And of course, cherries by themselves are very healthy for you too,” she says.

Joyel Timmreck’s White Chocolate Cheesecake

¼ cup chopped pecans

1 ½ cups graham crackers

¼ cup sugar

6 tablespoons butter, melted

3 (8-ounce) packages of cream cheese, softened

14-ounce can sweetened condensed milk

4 eggs

6-ounce package white chocolate baking squares, melted

1 teaspoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 300 degrees. Mix crumbs, chopped pecans, sugar and melted butter, press firmly into the bottom of a 9-inch spring form pan.

Beat cream cheese in a large bowl with mixer at medium speed until fluffy. Gradually beat in sweetened condensed milk until smooth. Blend in eggs, melted chocolate and vanilla Pour into a prepared pan.

Bake for one hour or until center is set. Cool completely at room temperature. Refrigerate for at least four hours.

Cherry Topping

4 cups tart cherries, drained

1 cup sugar

3 tablespoons cornstarch

1 teaspoon almond extract

Whole pecans for garnish

Mix all together in pan on stove top until thickened. Remove side of pan. Spoon cherry mixture over cheesecake. Garnish with whole pecans.

Flo Sasak’s Cherry Meatballs

2 pounds ground beef

2 eggs

1 cup oatmeal, put in blender and turned into flour-like consistency

2 tablespoons salt substitute seasoning (see recipe below) or more

1 cup diced maraschino cherries

Mix all together. Form into 1-inch balls.

Bake for 20-25 minutes at 350 F.

Cherry Sauce

4 cups tart cherries

1 cup sugar

2 tablespoons cornstarch2 cups water

16 ounces salt-free tomato sauce

6 tablespoons salt substitute seasoning (recipe below)

Mix all together. Heat and add meatballs before serving.

Salt Substitute Seasoning

1 tablespoon onion powder

1 tablespoon garlic powder

1 tablespoon paprika

1 teaspoon thyme, ground

1 teaspoon oregano, ground

½ teaspoon pepper

½ teaspoon celery seed

1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

2 teaspoons parsley flakes

½ teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon basil

Mix all together. Place in sealed jar.