There was a time, in its dynamic history, when Door County, Wisconsin produced 10 percent of the nation’s cherries. It was the number one industry in the diverse economy of the peninsula. That was seventy years ago, yet, the county’s reputation remains in place.
These days, the use of shakers, a machine able to extract about 95 percent of the cherries on a tree, are necessary for cultivation. Seventy years ago, however, it took man power and plenty of it. Across its history, migrants including Jamaicans, local Native Americans and Mexicans flocked to the county during the short harvest season. Even German POWs were used to pick the fruit, and of course the locals did the same.
As a matter of fact, although the need for cherry pickers had dwindled, it was my first job. I was twelve, and for two weeks of the summer I would go pick cherries for fifty cents a pail. It was fun, there were friends I knew picking along-we probably threw as many at each other versus those that ended up in our pail.
Don’t get me wrong , there is still a cherry industry in Door County. Products like wine and beer use the cherries grown in its orchards, the primary crop being the montmorency or tart pie cherry. Its just that, now, cherry picking is more tourist driven, with pick your own orchards in countless places in the county.
My choice of orchard, for the blog, was based on location. Forestville, the nearby town of Cherry Lanes Orchards, is at the very southern edge of the county. A pail, which hold’s 9-10 lbs, is thirteen dollars. Some places offer mini pails for $4.
Typically, an orchard in Door County is still rather easy to find, and their hours generally run from 9am to 4pm. Many have Facebook pages and the like, so finding info is not hard.
We’ve just started down Highway 42, heading north from Forestville. I spy the sign for Cherry Lanes and am disappointed. It’s closed. We had a late start from Green Bay and its now 6, as the venue closed at five. I figure we’d drive in the orchard anyways and see if anyone was around.
As I enter the lot, I find a huge grass parking area that wraps behind a large metal building. We park on the backside of the structure and decide that it doesn’t hurt to ask if we could do some picking.
Immediately after leaving the car, a gentleman in his fifties greets me amicably. I explain that we’re from Green Bay. He laughs at my misfortune and then says, “What the heck, c’mon I’ll grab some buckets and show you where to pick.”
I’m excited and relieved in the same breath. He hands us buckets then points the way.
The orchard seems so well kept, bug free and eye appealing one would think it was a Hollywood set and not a run of the mill Door County orchard. I tread the comfortable dry grass, surveying the crimson flecked trees, and choose a spot to begin picking.
I don’t know if there are any techniques to picking. Pretty much, you pluck them from the tree. I remove the cherries from the stem, which leaves me vulnerable to juices running on my hands-I need to wash up before leaving. Heidi breaks the stem from the branch which leaves her hands clean and tidy.
The temperature is perfect, much better than this past weekend. Its a feeling of pure freedom in contrast to the oppressive heat that reigned only a few days ago. I’m enjoying myself.
Heidi has never picked cherries before, but seems to be doing quite well. She claims its like decorating a Christmas tree, only in reverse. “I just pick a section and finish.” she says with a smile.
The owner had mentioned he would be working in the orchard. So, I don’t want to hold him up, if that’s the case. However, when we make it back to the shed, he seems surprised. “You guy’s done already?”
“Yeah, we did what we came to do.” I say.
“Well Ok, you could have picked longer.”
I’m satisfied and not sure we’ll use the all the cherries we have. Our buckets combined fills one pail, enough for a couple cherry pies. Heidi explained that she doesn’t even like cherries, plain crazy talk. We pay our thirteen dollars, the transaction paid in cash- no debit readers.
In the fall, Cherry Lanes is open for apple picking, Sounds like another great blog!! Macintosh, Cortland, Gala and Honey Crisp apples all reside in the orchard. So, I’m sure we’ll make it back again this fall. For now, we’re off to a State Park.
We head back to the car and head towards Potawatomi State Park. I’m disappointed, as it is the case in Peninsula State Park also, that the tower can no longer be used. The materials used to construct it have deteriorated, making climbing the structure dangerous.
We take a brief stroll on the Ice age trail, which will take you clear across the state. We’re not feeling that ambitious, nor do we have the time tonight. At the trailhead, a panoramic view begs us to take photos.
After the trek, around sunset, we wind up in Sturgeon Bay. We take a stroll, finding a frozen custard place known as the frozen spoon. While we eat our rather reasonably priced cups of Ice cream, we venture towards the marinas.
We find some pretty extravagant boats. Some, I’m sure, probably cost more than my net worth. There’s all types of Yacht’s, from fun loving and ‘free to do whatever we want’ to mid life crisis sports car types.
After some time, strolling from the marinas to third avenue, we decide to head home. It was a decent and rather cheap day. I think the most money I spent was that at the pump, when I refueled my car-around fifteen bucks. Go ahead, drive to Door County, pick some cherries and enjoy the day!
Harvest season usually runs from mid to late July into the first week of August.