On Father’s Day we took Hitesh on a morning excursion for a cherry picking trip to Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, California.
Okay, for those of you who live in the Bay Area, you probably never knew there is a cherry farm right here in the South Bay. Most if not all Bay Areans are only aware of the many cherry-picking farms in the East Bay near Livermore. I’ve done cherry picking in Livermore over a decade ago, and I never went back. Livermore is in the hotter area of our Bay Area microclimate regions.
As romantic and fun as picking cherries right off the trees sound, cherry picking in 100 degree heat is not fun. I still remember how I came home with the worst migraine, I was nauseas from the heat, and the cherries got mushy on our long 1- hour drive home. Needless to say, I never did it again.
Going through old magazine to find a treasure of an article
However cherry picking at a farm that is just 25 minutes from our home? That didn’t sound so bad. I only found out about this off the beaten path fruit farm recently when I was going through some old magazines. I was culling through a ton of Gourmet magazines that I had saved from over 10 years ago, and it was time to let them go. I did so reluctantly saving a handful for their gorgeous photography and eclectic and original recipes. In one of the issues – the July 2005 issue, I came across this article on cherries.
I love cherries!
My family knows that when it’s cherry season, that’s all I eat, and nothing else – no other fruit catches my eye when cherries are around. I was expecting the article to be about cherries, but actually the article is about a little known stone fruit farm in the South Bay in Morgan Hill, California called Andy’s Orchard.
Andy’s Orchard is the story of Andy Mariani, the son of a Yugoslavian-immigrant farmer, who was born in the 1940s in San Jose when the surrounding Santa Clara Valley was called the Valley of Hearts Delight and was covered in fruit orchards.
Andy’s father was a fisherman but enjoyed farming more than fishing and began a fruit farm called Mariani Orchards here in Santa Clara Valley, and eventually amassed an 18-acre fruit farm where he planted apricots, prunes, and other stone fruits.
Andy’s life story is one of survival.
He was diagnosed at a very young age of an autoimmune disease and was told by the doctors that he wouldn’t live for long. But his parents didn’t give up and sent their young son to Vienna to a doctor who was known for his unconventional methods. Andy made many trips over a few years to Europe for treatment and finally at the age of 36 he went into remission and has remained in remission ever since.
When the time came for Andy’s father to retire, the farm was passed on to Andy’s older brother Mitch as per tradition which dictated that the family business be passed on to the oldest son. Andy and his older brother Mitch ran the farm for over two decades withstanding the economic pressures that forced other farmers to sell to developers who eventually converted orchards into what is today Silicon Valley. While Mitch ran the business and the marketing side of the farm, Andy delved deeper into the horticultural aspects. He had taken horticultural classes and classes on soil and irrigation and began introducing exotic fruit and heirloom fruit varieties into their farm.
Eventually Andy and Mitch parted ways. But with the help of a dear friend who had made a windfall from selling his own land to Bay Area developers, Andy was able to purchase a few acres from his brother to start his own farm. Andy leased a large 45-acre parcel from his estranged brother and called it Andy’s Orchard.
Andy’s orchard today is home to over 250 varieties of cherries, peaches, nectarines, apricots, and plums.
Unlike other farms that succumb to marketing gimmicks like hayrides, and petting zoos to make it more entertaining for families to come to the farm, Andy prefers to stick to just fruit picking when fruit are at their peak.
Andy says this about his farm “This is not Disneyland. This is a working farm.” Andy is considered a fruit horticultural expert and according to his friend Olsen “Andy lives, breathes, and talks fruits.” Andy says this about the fruit varieties he grows: “I select fruit for flavor, whether it’s an heirloom or a modern variety.”
35 varieties of cherries
When we visited the farm for their cherry tasting and picking weekend in early June, there were over 35 varieties of cherries for tasting! Cherries from Bing cherries, Rainier, Black Tartarian, Coe’s Transparents, Montgomery Tart cherries, to Coral cherries and Waterloo cherries, just to name a few!
The Story of Black Republican
One variety of cherries was so black they were aptly called Black Republican. Our tour guide told us the story behind this name – A nurseryman by the name of Henderson Lewelling was the one who brought over 700 cherry seedlings to Oregon from Iowa in 1847, and then with the help of his two brothers William and Seth eventually developed a nursery with over 18,000 fruit trees ready for sale. It seems the Henderson brothers were abolitionists and felt strongly against slavery. As a snub against the slavery establishment they chose to name one of the most important cherry varieties Black Republican.
Black Republican is important because it is the parent of the huge Bing cherries that are so popular today for commercial farming. Bing cherries were a big success when first introduced as these cherries were sometimes mistaken for crabapples, and is considered to be Lewelling’s crowning achievement. Lewelling is also credited for bringing cherry trees to California. Here is a joke that one of the tourists in our tour made, he asked our tour guide “Where is the Democratic Cherry?” 😀
The tasting barn
After our cherry picking tour we ended up at the tasting barn where we could taste a wide variety of cherries that are not available anywhere else. It was cherry-tasting overload!
Also at the barn were tastings of some already ripe peaches and nectarines.
Now for some pictures of our cherry picking and cherry tasting adventure at Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, California.
On the road to Morgan Hill.
Excited to have arrived at Andy’s Orchard!
Every group of visitors has a tour guide who takes them around the orchard and gives a talk about the various types of cherries in the orchard and farming techniques. And of course while the tour guide is talking we are picking – cherries that is!
Start of our cherry picking tour.
First stop was a peach stop, and a fresh picked-off-the-tree peach tasting.
Next stop – cherry trees and cherry picking!
Cherry tasting right off the tree.
Buckets and baskets of cherries to take home!
After the cherry picking tour we had an opportunity to taste over 35 varieties of cherries at the barn.
I think Rani must have tasted every variety of cherry in this barn 😀!
At the barn, we also saw farm workers hand-packing fruit for local farmers markets and retail shops.
Next stop after cherry tasting was the weighing station. Here we weighed our cherry bounty and paid the cashier.
Last stop at Andy’s Orchard was their country store where plump sun-dried apricots and plums, local honey, nuts, chocolates and other condiments and treats were on sale.
This was one fun Sunday excursion! Freshly picked cherries right off the trees so sweet that they taste like pure sugar!!
Andy’s Orchard only does fruit-picking tours and tastings on pre-determined dates, and reservations are required. Their next fruit-tasting events are for late cherries, apricots, peaches and plums. Here are the dates:
- Saturday, July 8th – Late cherries, apricots, plus other stone fruits.
- Saturday, July 29th – Apricots, peaches, nectarines, and plums.
- Sunday, August 6th – Peaches, nectarines, plums, and pluots. Often as many as 60 different varieties.
For more information on Andy’s Orchard in Morgan Hill, California and to make reservations for their fruit picking and tasting tour, check out this link Andy’s Orchard.