Montana Cherry Picking




Every summer the east shore of Flathead Lake in Northwest Montana blooms to life with a ruby-red hue. If you take the scenic drive along the lake via Route 35 from Bigfork to Polson, you'll pass cherry orchard after cherry orchard, most with charming, weathered, roadside stands advertising their seasonal business is open. The scene is a piece of Americana at its finest. From mid-July to mid-August, height of the short Montana cherry season, rows of vehicles hug the side of the narrow road while passengers exit to load up on juicy, fresh produce.

I pass these orchards ever summer and have eaten more cherries than I'll admit, but somehow have never stopped to pick the crave-worthy fruit myself. One afternoon when the lake was too choppy to boat on, we decided to head down the shore to a U-pick orchard and finally "be tourists".

We stopped at Bigfork Orchards, the first orchard along the water if you're headed south from Bigfork, and got busy picking. The orchard wasn't technically U-pick, but the owner was extremely kind and generously let us roam the grounds, filling as many cartons as we could handle and popping the occasional tempting treat in our mouths as we went. Row after row of cherry trees line the property, adding a beautiful backdrop to the fun activity.

The cherries in the Flathead Valley are very succulent and sweet, most being the dark red heart-shaped Lamberts, a few Bings, as well as golden Rainiers. Beautiful and delicious! While not suitable for cherry pies, as America’s favorite dessert requires tart rather than sweet cherries, such as Morello, types native to Montana are great for a variety of recipes, including jams and preserves which allow you to enjoy them throughout the year. Next summer I’d like to make a jam in order to bring a taste of home back to Nashville. That is, if I’m able to resist not eating them all before I get the chance to do so!

This definitely won't be the last time I pick cherries for myself. The freshness can't be beat and the peaceful process was good for the soul. An hour later with full baskets and happy hearts, we took our pickings and headed home. There are few things in life that make me happier than sitting on a dock, spitting cherry pits into the lake and watching a spectacular sunset (at 10pm!). It's the perfect way to end the day and everything summer in Montana should be.

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