A Family at the Heart of Cherry Country

August 19, 2016 7:45 am Last Updated: August 19, 2016 7:45 am

ROYAL CITY, Wash.—The trees that fill the orchards are dotted with jewels—gleaming orbs, vibrantly red, nestled among the verdant leaves.

Closer inspection reveals not precious gems, but a different kind of treasure: thousands of tart Montmorency cherries, ripened in the summer sun. The Montmorency reigns king here at Dorsing Farms, a third-generation family farm in Washington state’s Columbia Basin. They’re one of the region’s largest tart cherry growers; the stone fruit fills 1,500 acres of orchards on the farm.

(Courtesy of Lisa Dorsing)
(Courtesy of Lisa Dorsing)

The Dorsings have been farming this land since 1962, when Karl Dorsing won 30 acres in a state-sponsored lottery. Dorsing and his family moved from Oregon to Washington to start the farm, and when he grew old, he passed it down to his children. His children, in turn, turned it over to theirs: brothers Bryce and Patrick, and brothers Kevin and Scott.

Today, the farm grows 2,500 acres of cherry and apple orchards, blueberry fields, and wheat and alfalfa crops. The current generation of Dorsings oversees the land, along with an original wholesale line, Royal Ridge Fruits, and a consumer line, Stoneridge Orchards.

Fresh fruit from the orchards is taken to the Royal Ridge plant, just 15 minutes away, and frozen or dried into addictive treats. Their dried Montmorency cherries are especially moreish—plump and juicy, bursting with sweetness, and all too easy to keep popping in your mouth, one after another.

The Dorsings are a tight-knit bunch, their family bonds strengthened by the farm and the proud heritage tied to it. Many of them grew up here, spending their summers playing in the fields and helping with the harvest once they were old enough.

Family portrait: Two generations of Dorsings— and a third in the making.  (Courtesy of Lisa Dorsing)
Family portrait: Two generations of Dorsings—
and a third in the making. (Courtesy of Lisa Dorsing)

“The outdoors was our oyster,” Bryce said, recalling fond childhood memories. “There was a lot of hard work, but a lot of fun things we got to do as well. It’s a great upbringing, a good place to raise a family and kids.”

Not everyone stays but no one can completely leave it behind either. Summer barbecues bring together family living on or near the farm, and those who’ve moved away come back for bigger celebrations in the year.

There’s the yearly Dorsing Christmas, a three-day weekend event complete with a gift exchange, game night, and copious amounts of good food, and an October hunting trip (“We call it hunting, but it’s more like glorified camping,” Bryce said), spent roasting hot dogs and s’mores and catching up around the fire. After the harvest, the family takes a long weekend traveling the Oregon coast, to get away and unwind after working 14- to 16-hour days.

For the self-proclaimed “cherry people,” cherry crisps and cobblers are a family tradition. Dark tart cherries, a lesser known and grown variety, are the star of a ruby red crisp. A dense, buttery crust under gooey, sweet cherry filling and nutty, crunchy oat topping come together in a summery slab. It’s best enjoyed with ice cream—the perfect end to a summertime feast.

(Courtesy of Lisa Dorsing)
(Courtesy of Lisa Dorsing)

Dark Tart Cherry Crisp

Introduction

Since tart cherries are mainly used in cooking and baking, they’re rarely sold fresh. Snatch them up if you see them, but frozen and canned will work just as well in this recipe.

Ingredients

For the Pastry:

  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 1/2 cup cold butter, grated or chopped into small pieces

For the Filling:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1 cup tart cherry juice
  • 4 cups pitted dark tart cherries
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

For the Topping:

  • 1 1/2 cups quick-cooking rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 5 tablespoons butter, melted

Directions

For the Pastry:

Combine salt, sugar, and flour; cut in the cold butter. Press mixture into a 2-quart or 11-inch-by-7-inch baking dish. Bake at 350 F for 15 minutes.

For the Filling:

Combine sugar and cornstarch in a saucepan. Stir in cherry juice. Cook over medium heat until thick, stirring constantly. Fold in cherries and almond extract. Pour mixture over baked crust.

Combine all topping ingredients; sprinkle over filling. Bake for 20–25 minutes or until golden brown and bubbly around the edges.

Courtesy of Phyllis Dorsing