The 4th of July means one thing in Washington’s Yakima Valley—cherries. The first tree fruit to hit the market, cherry sales spike as peak cherry season coincides with cookouts and picnics. For Chukar Cherries, the 4th of July means trucks laden with sweet Bing, Rainier, and Montmorency Tart cherries will soon roll into the company’s factory headquarters in Prosser for pitting and drying.
The 2019 cherry season has shaped up to be a good one. Orchards won’t surpass 2017 yield—the largest cherry season on record—but the mid-June estimate called for 23.8 million boxes. Growers across the Inland Northwest hope each year that their cherries will be ripe for market before the 4th of July. As the lead sweet cherry producer in the nation—Washington growers will ship cherries to be enjoyed across the US on the 4th.
“In July we’re in a frenzy of meeting with growers, testing the brix of cherries bound for Chukar, and drying cherries ‘round the clock,” says Chukar’s General Manager Tim Oten. This year the company will dehydrate over 175 tons of cherries grown exclusively by local orchards. Chukar does not add preservatives or sugar to their dried cherries which means that the cherries must be fully ripe before they are picked. To maximize the natural sugar content of the cherries, local growers allow cherries bound for Chukar to hang on the tree longer. This technique yields a riper, sweeter cherry but also means the cherries must be processed soon after picking. Growers deliver cherries directly to Chukar where the cherries are washed, pitted, and dried immediately on site.
In 1988 Chukar Cherries was launched on the largest family-owned cherry orchard in Washington located just outside Prosser. Grower Pam Montgomery was passionate about finding ways to share Washington’s agricultural riches with more people, which led her to pioneer cherry drying without adding sugar or preservatives during the drying process. Dried Bing cherries were Pam’s first product. From there she started drying other varieties of cherries and dipping them in chocolate. Dehydration allowed cherries to be enjoyed year ‘round and demonstrated the versatility of the fruit.
Chukar’s dried cherries and Northwest gifts are available online at CHUKAR.COM, at the company’s flagship store in Prosser, in Seattle’s Pike Place Market, and at a host of premier retailers.
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