The state of Michigan has many good things going for it… the Great Lakes, the 2 peninsulas, the auto industry, Motown… but one of the things it’s most famous for is cherries.
The shore of Lake Michigan is lined with cherry orchards. Michigan’s cherry production is over 250 million pounds and accounts for approximately 75% of the tart cherries and 20% of the sweet cherries grown in the United States each year. Not too shabby!
Here are a few cherry facts to contemplate…
- There are about 7,000 cherries on an average tart cherry tree. It takes about 250 tart cherries to make a cherry pie, so the average tree produces enough cherries for 28 pies.
- The average American consumes about one pound of tart cherries per year.
- The third week of July is usually the peak of the cherry harvest. Most sweet cherries are still picked by hand, but most tarts are harvested using a mechanical shaker.
The city of Traverse City is host to the National Cherry Festival each July. The festival, from what I hear, was a huge hit this year… it was in the beginning of the month. Thankfully, we are able to acquire these juicy sweet cherries with a short trip to Eastern Market in Detroit. We can arrive at Eastern Market it about 40 minutes, whereas Traverse City is a 4 hour drive.
Visiting Traverse City is a welcoming experience. The area has so much to offer… and as much fun as the festival is, I much prefer visiting the area when there are fewer tourists.
The day I made the BBQ sauce, it was to use on chicken we were grilling for dinner. We had a lot of chicken because I thought Travis was coming to dinner…he didn’t, which meant leftover chicken had taken up residence in the refrigerator. The salad you see above was born from those leftovers.
BBQ chicken, fresh cut mixed greens from our garden and an array of veggies on hand. For the salad dressing, we concocted a superb vinaigrette by simply mixing (about 1/2 and 1/2) the Cherry BBQ Sauce and my Creamy Greek Yogurt Vinaigrette (recipe, here). It was the perfect topping!
So… let’s get back to the sauce. The “hardest” part is pitting the cherries… the rest is simply measuring, stirring and pureeing. Best part? Only one pot to wash!
Note: I used a 1 quart jar of canned tomatoes, but you can easily substitute a 25 ounce can of whole peeled tomatoes.
Traverse City Cherry BBQ Sauce
3 Tablespoons butter
1 Vidalia onion (or other sweet onion if Vidalias are not available), chopped
2 medium cloves garlic, minced
1 quart tomatoes (or 25 ounce can whole, peeled)
3 cups pitted sweet cherries
1 1/3 cup dark brown sugar
2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup cider vinegar
1 Tablespoon Kosher salt
1 Tablespoon ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
1 teaspoon dry mustard
1/2 teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
Melt butter a large pot over medium heat. Add onion and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
Add the rest of the ingredients, stir well to combine. Bring mixture to a boil, then reduce heat until a low simmer is achieved.
Simmer approximately 1 hour, or until sauce is thickened and reduced by about one-third.
Puree the sauce by either transferring the sauce to the jar of a blender or using an immersion blender.
Store BBQ sauce in the refrigerator for up to one month.
Recipe adapted from here.