July 20,2013, a little before 10:00 a.m., marked the end of an era for Rennhack Orchards (“the farm”). Dave has been spending time every summer at the helm of a cherry shaker for decades, and he and the crew finished cherry shaking season for Rennhack Orchards yesterday. It’s the last time a cherry shaker will be used here. Over his years on the farm, cherry shaking season has been the one constant, but he decided that it’s time for that to change, too.
Montmorency tart cherries are the traditional pie cherry in the U.S., and they are usually harvested with a cherry shaker, then taken to a processor. Area residents easily recognize the tell-tale signs of the season; flatbed trucks haul big square cherry tanks that are filled with cherries and water. The tanks are topped with plywood lids held down with rubber straps with hooks (like bungee cords). The cherries and water slosh when the truck rounds a corner, so intersections that are traveled by the trucks are marked with a curving line of water and bright red tart cherries.
It always seems that shaking season occurs during the hottest week of the summer, and this year was no exception. On our shaker, Dave sits hunched over, quite close to the hot, noisy engine, to drive the shaker & operate the controls, so the heat is even more intense for him. The other members of the crew walk along and pull tarps and tend the tank, or drive a tractor to set empty (except for the water the cherries go into) tanks onto the shaker and pick up the full tanks to head for the cooling pad. The tanks spend time with water flowing into them on the cooling pad to chill the cherries before they are taken to the processor. Leaves and pits float to the top and are removed, so the end result is a tank of crystal clear water covering jewel-like orbs of fruit. On a year like this one, with no early winds to whip the cherry branches and bruise the fruit, it is a lovely sight.
Next season, the hottest week of the summer will be spent on the same tasks as the previous week–hand-picking cherries, tying up tomato plants, thinning apples, and so forth. We’ll think about cherry shaking, and be thankful for the extra time there is to take care of the rest of the farm, including the new apples that will be taking the place of most of the current tart cherry orchards. We’ll be leaving enough tart cherry trees to hand-pick for the market, but the craziness of cherry shaking season is over.