Monday, July 09, 2007

On the Trail of Sour Cherries: A U-Pick Road Trip

I can't be the only crazy foodie in Christendom that makes her travel plans around regional eats, can I? You already know about my regular forays into Montreal and the surrounding areas of Quebec. At the other end of the spectrum, there are whole vacations devoted to cuisine, such as when I went to New Orleans some years ago just for the food, and more specifically, to find the best pecan pie in the Crescent City. (By the way, and Liz Taylor agrees with me here, it's to be found at the Camellia Grill. The pie itself is decent, but it all comes down to how they drizzle a slice with butter and then cook it on the grill for a minute or two before serving it up all warm and gooey. Wow! But I digress...)

Even when I'm going somewhere for a non-culinary purpose, I still feel compelled to plot out a few foodie side trips. This past weekend, I was in West Springfield, MA for some dog shows (we hiss...although we did get reserve a couple of days, which is like runner-up). And on the way back, I made it my business to track down some farms in lovely Columbia County (15 miles or so east of Albany, the beginning of the Hudson region) that might have the nearly-unattainable objects of my desiring, FRESH PIE CHERRIES! As is my way, I did some research before I left, and I found two places in Ghent and Kinderhook, and a few more in Hudson and Germantown, but I was hoping not to have to go that far south and/or too far from my regular route (I-90). Lucky me, I struck gold (or maybe rubies, in this case) at the first place I tried, the beautiful Love Apple Farm in Ghent, NY. I don't know what possessed me because they were NOT cheap, but I made off with an entire PECK of puckery beauties (that's eight quarts to non-rural readers). They were $1.50 a pound if you picked them yourself, but I was quite happy to pay $2 a pound for them to do the picking for me. After all, I'm going to have to do all of the blasted pitting (although I pray that Cyd will find it in her heart to help--and she better if she wants a pie out of it)! However, had it not been late in the day with nearly three hours left to drive home and were it not so terribly hot, and had I brought some company along (other than my dog, Grady, whose paws don't allow for gentle fruit retrieval from trees), it would have been a fun outing to go picking in the orchards, and afterwards, there's a petting zoo with cute baby animals, too. :-)

I'm not sure if you can make out the sign here (click on it to make it bigger), but I enjoy the house U-pick rules at Love Apple Farm:
1) No throwing fruit. (I love that this is priority one.)
2) Must pay for all that you pick. (That's fair enough.)
3) Lift your trunk upon return from orchard. (Ooh, not much love and trust at the LOVE Apple Farm, eh?)
And then a final warning, 4) Pick at your own risk. (What are the dangers of cherry-picking, I wonder? Since fruit-throwing is strictly verboten, that leaves...what? Jealous bird attacks?) After a hot day of picking fruit in the orchards, you can cool off with some ice cream at Love Apple Farm. In the lower right corner of the picture, you can also see a few of their ice cream flavors that day. I didn't have any, but the most amusing flavor was ELVIS (vanilla with peanut butter and banana)...tee hee.

However, I did avail myself of a most unexpected food find (and aren't those always the best ones?), an authentic Mexican lunch from "Leticia's Cosina!" I saw a lot of Latino folks around the area, and I assume, much like where I grew up in Oregon in the pear capital of the world, they have a lot of seasonal migrant labor in the Hudson area. (I overheard one customer saying, "See you next season!" to Leticia and her crew while I was eating my lunch out on the covered patio.) I chose two tamales and a soup called Sopa de Cameron, or cold shrimp soup. And look at the cute little apple plate on which they were served! The tamales were okay, but nothing to rave about (they will be much improved when the pico de gallo includes seasonal tomatoes in another month or so). But the SOUP...oh, the soup was sheer heaven! It was like gazpacho--tomatoey, zesty and tangy with lime--but with the sweetness of little shrimps and avocado chunks. DELISH! You KNOW I am going to have to try to recreate this refreshing soup at home, since I am clearly in my cold soup period.

After my time at Love Apple Farm, I decided to go ahead and check out Samascott Orchards which was just a couple more miles down the road in Kinderhook. Kinderhook is just a darling little postcard of a town, and Samascott's looked to be U-pick heaven! They have a little table set up in the middle of the parking lot with scales and a cash box. On the way in, you stop and pick up a map to locate the pickings of your choice, and then on the way out, you stop at the table again and they weigh your haul, collect your payment, and send you on your way. It's a U-pick drive-thru! Isn't that fun?!

Heading back to the interstate, I made a final stop at Golden Harvest Farms in Galatie, NY. I was saddened to realize that the peaches advertised on their roadside sign that caused me to slam on my brakes were from Georgia. But they did have apple cider donuts, hot from the fryer, that were the best I have ever tasted, and I consider myself an apple cider donut connoisseur, mind you. They were huge and fluffy and spicy, and this all but cements my working theory that fried doughs are best left to those from Germanic communities (this theory having derived from the most amazing funnel cake that I once had years ago in a largely Amish area in Ohio, but again...I digress). So I bought a dozen donuts and a pint of locally-produced milk, and I was happy as a clam at high tide, riding down I-90 toward Albany, covered in sugar and an equally sticky smugness in acquiring 20 pounds of beautiful sour cherries. And in a few weeks, the Morellos (a European tart black cherry that I have only ever seen in a jar at Trader Joe's) will be ready, not to mention, the local peaches. I feel another road trip coming on! ;-) So my friends, if you are in the general region, I highly recommend a very scenic day trip to the farms and orchards of Columbia County, New York. It's a truly seasonal adventure that should not be missed!

However, if picking fresh cherries is not feasible for you, or not your style, I can still recommend a wonderful recipe using cherry jam. My dear friend, June, made this meal for us from the ubiquitous Rachael Ray a few weeks ago, and it was so good, that I had to make it again at home! I like to think that it still honors this brief but magical cherry season any time of year without having to make the long summer road trip.
Spanish Pork Chops with Linguica Corn Stuffing and Cherry-Rioja Gravy

(Source: Rachael Ray via

4 thick-cut boneless pork chops, center cut, about 2 pounds
salt and pepper
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
1 cup rioja or other dry red wine, eyeball it, about 1/4 of a bottle (I used Shiraz myself)
1/2 cup black cherry preserves or all-fruit spread (Polaner makes a great one, though soon, I will have my own homemade sour cherry jam!)
2 cups beef stock, divided
1/2 pound linguica or chorizo, chopped
2 ribs celery, chopped
1 medium onion, chopped
1 small red bell pepper, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped (or 4!)
4 corn muffins, crumbled (I cheated and made mine from a Martha White mix)
1 teaspoon smoked paprika, eyeball it in your palm (regular paprika would work)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh thyme leaves, 4 to 5 sprigs
handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Heat a skillet over medium high heat. Season pork chops with salt and pepper. Add 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil to the pan, 2 turns around the pan. Add the chops and caramelize the meat, 2 minutes on each side. Transfer meat to a sheet pan and place in the oven to finish cooking through, 12 to 15 minutes. Return pan to stove, reduce heat a bit and add butter to the skillet. Add flour to butter and cook 1 minute. Whisk wine into pan and reduce 1 minute then whisk in preserves and 1 cup of stock. Season with salt and coarse black pepper and let gravy thicken over low heat.

Heat a medium nonstick skillet over medium high heat with 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, 1 turn of the pan. When oil smokes, add linguica or chorizo and brown, 2 minutes. Add the celery, onions, peppers, garlic and season with salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes then crumble muffins into the skillet and combine with vegetables. Dampen the stuffing with remaining 1 cup of stock and season with smoked paprika and thyme. Reduce heat to low and keep warm until ready to serve.

Remove meat from oven and whisk the drippings into your gravy. Pile stuffing on plates, chops alongside and ladle gravy over both. Scatter parsley over meat and stuffing.

1 comment:

Randi said...

Looks like you had a great time!! Glad you got the cherries. You could always hop over to Ontario too. In a few weeks, most grocery stores have pails of sour cherries.(frozen). I think I paid 14.99 for a HUGE pail.