On a sunny June day at Sunnyvale’s Orchard Heritage Park, Jose Zavala, 15, pitted cherries.
“There’s a tool I use to punch a hole through the cherry so the pit could come out,” said Zavala, a summer employee. “We pit a lot of the black cherries to make jam out of them. These jams are later sold at the fruit stand. Not all cherries here get pitted.”
Later, Zavala joined Farmer Charlie Olson and other orchard associates at the sorting belt to process freshly picked Rainier and Bing cherries. According to Olson, the cherries have been picked since noon that day. These cherries came from the three-acre orchard at Las Palmas Park near the tennis court.
“We’re trying to get the bad cherries out, some that are moldy or going to rot, or infested with worms but that’s very rare,” Olson said reassuringly. “We are trying to separate the cherries so when the customer buys them, we have every cherry perfect. The sorting belt turns each cherry so you don’t have to sort them. They turn them over one, two, three and four times so you see all sides of the cherry.”
Bad cherries were tossed. Good cherries that made it to the end of the sorting belt were packaged to be sold. A five-minute walk away from Orchard Heritage Park was a fruit stand set up in the parking lot near the Sunnyvale Community Center. Despite Olson’s concerns that the intense heat wave earlier in the week had softened the cherries, many customers still came to the fruit stand today for their cherry fix.
For the last 27 years, Elisabeth Maurer has been employed at the fruit stand and at Sunnyvale’s apricot and cherry orchards. At the fruit stand today, she served customers and worked with volunteers. A five-pound box of Rainier cherries went for $18 while cherries packaged in other weights were sold at varying prices. Bing cherry jam and preserved fruit were also on sale.
“Since we first started years ago, we have brought good fruit to the customers,” Maurer said. “Customers appreciate that we are still running the orchards and bringing fresh fruit to the community. They support us through their purchases.”
For Maurer, the possibilities of the treats that can be made with cherries are endless.
“I like to make cherry jam, cherry cobblers and cherry pies. Those are my favorite things to do with cherries,” Maurer said. “Some of my jams are sold at the fruit stand.
“To make cherry jam, I recommend using Bing cherries and using very ripe cherries,” she continued. “It makes the flavor stand out. Of course, you also need to use sugar, lemon juice and pectin. Cherry doesn’t have natural pectin so you have to add pectin, which makes the jam firm. Otherwise you will have a runny jam.”
The fruit stand is open when cherries and apricots are available for sale. Call Maurer at (408) 891-1753 to confirm when the fruit stand is open this summer.