Tart Cherries & Traverse City

Photo by: Chris AraceWhat began as an informal “blessing of the blossoms” ceremony in 1910 has become a weeklong celebration of the cherry including over 150 events, also known as the National Cherry Festival. This annual event is held in Traverse City, usually starting the first Saturday in July. 2011’s festival begins July 2nd, and ends on July 9th.

Traverse City and the coastal areas of the northwest Lower Peninsula have a long history with the cherry. In 1852, Presbyterian minister Peter Dougherty planted his first cherry trees on Old Mission Peninsula. Surprisingly, the cherries did very well. The climate is ideal for growing cherries – Lake Michigan tempers the arctic winds in the winter, and cools the orchards in summer.

Photo by: Chris AraceMichigan’s commercial cherry production began in the 1890’s, and by the early 1900’s, the tart cherry industry was firmly established in the state. Michigan produces 75% of the tart cherries grown in the United States. The primary variety grown is the Montmorency. This fruit is excellent for pies, preserves, and juice. A new variety of the tart cherry is the Balatan, developed by Dr. Amy Iezzoni at Michigan State University.

The other type of cherry grown in the U.S. is the sweet cherry. This is primarily grown in the northwest states of the U.S. – with 60% of the sweet cherry crop found in Oregon and Washington. Three varieties of the sweet cherry make up 95% of production – Bing, Lambert, and Rainier. Overall, the United States cherry industry produces 650 million pounds per year.

Photo by: Chris AraceThe tart cherry industry is a vital part of the northwest Lower Peninsula’s financial well-being, and as such, it is understandable why the cherry farmers started the “blessing of the blossoms” in 1910. In 1925, Traverse City businesses partnered with local cherry farmers to promote the industry with the Blessings of the Blossoms Festival. In 1926, the festival was already being attended by national dignitaries. That year, Hawkins Bakery presented a cherry pie 3 feet in diameter, and containing over 5,000 cherries to visiting President Calvin Coolidge.

By 1929 the festival was so popular, the one-day event was turned into a three-day event, and the opening ceremonies were attended by then-President Herbert Hoover. In 1931 the event was officially deemed a national celebration by the Michigan Legislature.

Photo by: Chris AraceSince that time the festival has grown to a five-day celebration in 1964, and then finally became a week-long festival in 1968. While the length of the festival has remained one week, the events occurring during the festival continue to grow. This year there are over 150 events taking place for the 500,000+ attendees, including a cherry spitting contest, Royale Parades, music, a Princess Tea, and more fun events for all ages.

If you have a blast at the National Cherry Festival, and are looking for more fruit festivals to attend this summer, here is a list of the upcoming fruit festivals in 2011.

  • 63rd Copper Country Strawberry Festival
    July 8-9, 2011
    It’s the berries! The famous shortcake stars, and there’s a fish boil, arts and crafts, Chicken BBQ, French toast breakfast, parade, and more strawberry shortcake.  

  • Photo by: Chris Arace48th National Blueberry Festival
    August 11-14, 2011
    South Haven
    Get your fill of blueberry pancakes, enter the blueberry cook-off, take in the art show, entertainment, parade, munch fresh blueberries, and otherwise appreciate this important Michigan crop. 

  • Montrose Blueberry Festival
    August 18-21, 2011
    The 40th annual event features an all-you-can-eat blueberry pancake breakfasts, blueberry pies and baked goods, plus a blueberry pie eating contest and a full calendar of fun events. 

  • Howell Melon Festival
    August 19-21, 2011
    Dance at the Melon Ball, sample melon ice cream and melon wine, and enjoy a variety of events honoring the local fruit crop. 

  • Photo by: Chris AraceWild Blueberry Festival
    August 19-21, 2011
    The famous Blueberry Brunch and Blueberry Jamboree are highlights of the salute to the berries found throughout the area.
  • Michigan Peach Festival
    September 1-5, 2011
    A peachy celebration of the local fruit includes a packed schedule of events, from a fun run to a talent competition, bed race, car show, night parade, floral parade, and peach pie, of course. 

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  7. I don’t think Ive ever seen anything more beautiful than driving through Mission Peninsula with the cherry trees in full bloom against a back drop of blue water. But at the same time, I see an ever increasing “invasion”, for lack of a better word, of grape vineyards crowding out the cherry orchards. Please, I have nothing against the wine industry but I fear that we are in danger of losing what is so uniquely Michigan. Grapes are grown in many states but very few regions can compare with Michigan’s cherry orchards. I hope there is some way in place that guarantees the future of Michigan’s cherry industry.

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