Reedley, Ukki and Mummu, Cherries

Recipe Testers,
My grandfather, Reverend Omar Gideon Halme, was a minister. We called him Ukki, the Finnish word for Grandfather. He was born in Massachusetts, but his family returned to Finland when he was only two years old. So when he came back to America at age 27 and would tell people where he was born, he would say Massachusetts with the thickest Finnish accent that would make any immigration official checking passports very skeptical. He kept that accent the rest of his life and made many people skeptical of his Massachusetts birth! My Finnish Grandmother, Saimi Airaksinen, we called Mummu. She sold bread to the woodsman to earn her passage to America. My grandmother knew of my grandfather in Finland, but “she didn’t want anything to do with those wild Halme boys!” They both came to Canada separately and were “set-up” by Ukki’s mother. They married in 1930 in Toronto. After that they moved to New York and she worked as a cook and he as a chauffeur. He decided at this time to become a minister and they moved to Chicago so Ukki could attend Union Theological College. My Mummu continued to work as a cook and a maid while he was in school.
After graduation their first church was in Pelo, Minnesota. (I remember when I was pregnant with Katherine, and Melissa was only 9 months old, I was having a challenging time. My mummu said she remembers when she had Martha in Minnesota. She would have to go out to the lake and bring the water back to the house. Then she’d get the wood and start a fire to boil the water to wash the diapers. hmmm….suddenly the hard time I was having didn’t seem quite as hard as I thought! This is the same grandmother who made all her own soap from talo and all her own bread, etc.)
I believe they were only in Pelo a year when he got his new assignment to California in 1937. The job covered two congregations: one in Los Angeles and the other in Reedley. They are 200 miles apart (and the 5 didn’t look like it does today! I will confirm with my father, but I believe the drive was on a two-lane road.) Ukki preached in Reedley once a month. When Mummu and Ukki first arrived in Los Angeles there wasn’t a parsonage ready, so they actually lived in Reedley for the first six months of their time in California. Ukki continued this commute to Reedley for 20 years. He however never retired from the Finnish Congregational Church of Los Angeles. He was always going to retire ”in 5 years.” At 92 he was taking the month of August off, as he did every year, and he passed away during his vacation. He happily worked his entire life and spread so much happiness and joy from just “dropping by” to visit his parishioners. (I will mention another side story: my uncle Ray moved in with them to become “the driver” after Ukki drove his car off the side of the Figueroa Mountain while he was on a drive just before my brother’s football game—you can’t believe he survived if you saw how steep the mountain was. After the car rolled three times, a tree saved him just before the deeper ravine. He got out of the car, hiked back up the steep mountain to the road and then started walking the 17 miles back to Solvang. I believe he was around 85 at the time. So thereafter, Uncle Ray became the driver and without Uncle Ray, Ukki’s ministry and work would not have gone on. We are all grateful to Uncle Ray for the quality of life he gave them until the very end so they could continue to give to everyone else.)
Back to Reedley: My father loved going to Reedley as a child. He loved those once a month visits and remembers how incredible the warm fruit from the trees was. He of course did the daring thing of walking across the train trellis too. He had fond memories of being at the Matson’s farm along the King’s river. The Matson’s were one of the Finnish families they were the closest to because my father was the same age as their son and my grandfather often went hunting with Mr. Matson. They grew grapes and made raisins for Sunmaid Because of Ukki’s job, my father had the benefit of living both a city and a country life. My father said they were often paid in fruit and eggs and so would leave from their once a month visits with a car full of fruit.
After Ukki stopped going to Reedley, my father would still bring us as children on the way back from Yosemite. We called Mr. Matson “The Friendly Farmer.” In addition to the grapes, they also had apricots, cherries, nectarines, blackberries and other things just growing in the yard. For me, who was (and still am) addicted to fruit, I was in heaven there. It was miserably hot outside, but inside the farm house it was cool and Mrs. Matson would give us grape juice in glasses that had been jam jars (and had archie comic characters on them.) Her bathroom smelled like Jergen’s hand lotion. We would float down the King’s river on inner-tubes. It was a fun place to play. My father continued going until everyone in the family died. He even visited Mrs. Maton in the convalescent home up until the very end. So sometime after I was married we stopped going to Reedley because no one was left to visit anymore. We continued with Yosemite, but the Reedley chapter had closed.
Now fast forward 15 years to 2005. I was in Santa Barbara taking my daughter to specialists at Lindmood-Bell to help with her dyslexia. This was a VERY stressful time in my life. We hadn’t considered making the transition to homeschooling yet and I was working more than full time while at the same time trying to do anything and everything to help my daughter. So we took the plunge of this enormous expense and time of taking her to this specialist for three hours everyday in Santa Barbara. During the time she was there I had to cater 6 parties in a five weeks. They were major parties for big clients and nothing I could take lightly. Usually, in my busiest season I only accept three parties a month, so this was double what I was usually doing. I’m saying all this because I wasn’t “very friendly” during this time. I was overwhelmed and didn’t want to meet any new people. I went in to the class, said hello, dropped her off and tried to get some work done. While we were there (a three month period) there as another family there. I didn’t even want to make small talk because I just felt I couldn’t commit to knowing anyone else at the time. But during the breaks, Melissa would play with the other girls there and Annie, Katie and Lily were there for all the breaks. So finally, at about the 6th week, their mother Jill says hi to me and could Melissa come over and play. I gave her one of the rudest responses ever (Jill and I laugh about it now.) I said something absurd like “I just can’t make any more friends. I just can’t have anyone else who needs me. I have too much going on in my life and I can’t make everyone happy.” Jill’s response to me was “I completely understand.”
So we went to the park. We’re at the park and I ask Jill where she is from and she says “Fresno.” And I said “Have you ever heard of a little town called Reedley?” and she says “We’re from Reedley! I just never say Reedley because no one knows where that is, so I just say Fresno.”
All this time while I’ve been telling you this story I forgot to mention how small Reedley is and how many little towns there are in that area. It would have been remarkable if she said she was from Parlier or Dinuba or Visalia or Kingsburg. But no, she was from Reedley. Her husband was a farmer. (It’s kind of a large farm and they have a lovely second home in Montecito. In fact, when we first went to the farm in Reedley, my girls said “I thought farmers were poor.”) Anyway, the Gerawans have become some of our dearest friends. Melissa found soul mates in Annie, Katie and Lily and I found a best friend (that it turns out I had time to haveJ. And they started homeschooling the year after I did. We get to see them in Santa Barbara whenever they are down. But we also get to renew the tradition of going to Reedley after Yosemite, which we’ve been doing for the last four years. So every year we stop and get TONS of fruit. And at this time of year the cherries and apricots are always ripe. (Their AMAZING peaches that you’ve heard me rave about come in July!)
For those of you who live in other parts of the country, Montecito/Santa Barbara is arguably one of the most beautiful cities in the United States. So you would think my girls would want to go to the Gerawan’s Montecito house. But whenever I say “We’re going to visit Annie, Katie and Lily” my girls both say “I hope we’re going to the Reedley house.” Because that is the house with the horses, dogs, chickens and the place the girls love to play. . . just as my father did as a child . . . just as I did as a child . . . and just as their children will hopefully go to play.
So now to the food: I first invented this warm cherry hors d’ouevres for Krista Ramonas because she said she loved cherries. I don’t have a written recipe for this yet. I know Laurie Tilson wrote some notes down after I made it at her house one time and I know she makes it regularly. I know I’ve described it for a number of people and some of the people who have eaten it have copied it. It can only be made when cherries are in season. (her wedding happened to be at the six months polar opposite to June, so we got cherries from Australia or Chile or somewhere like that. So you actually have two times a year you can make this. Just don’t plan it for September or a time when you can’t get cherries – another thing we discovered by mistake!)
Jill Gerawan has both Rainier cherries (the light ones that look almost white with just a hint of orange and red color) and the dark deep red Bing cherries. I often make this with Bing Cherries because they are more readily available and I like the contrast of the dark color. But the Rainier cherries are actually sweeter than the dark ones. Some people refer to them as Queen Anne Cherries.


Goat cheese
Marcona Almonds or Hazelnuts (Laurie Tilson likes hazelnuts. I like marcona almonds.  Walnuts or Pecans are also an option
Chervil (I grow my own because it is hard to find in stores)
Walnut Raisin Rye Bread to make little toast squares with (or some kind of dark bread)
Pinch of salt

1.  Make the toast by thinly sliced the bread and then cutting it into squares. Brush it with butter and toast it.

2.  Mix the goat cheese with the nuts.

3.  Saute the cherries in a kind of simple syrup. (I think I had simple syrup –water and sugar—next to me the first time I did this) Or I may just have sprinkled the cherries with the sugar as I sautéed them in some butter and oil.

On subsequent versions we tried sautéing them in only butter (which was what I swore we did the first time we made them, but then they had this kind of thick butter coating.) So later we tried tossing them in olive oil and butter. Play around with both and see what you like better.

So you have two choices:  

Choice 1:  If you’re doing them for 100 or 200 people, then you can make all the toasts and put the cheese mixture on them and then put the warm cherrie on the cheese and then a sprig of chervil. (chervil is in the anise family and I only can find it if I order it from my produce guy or if I grow it. It grows really easily. I supposed you could substitute parsley if you want something green but it has a different taste. Maybe mint would be an alternative.)

Choice 2:   get them all assembled and ready to go (minus the chervil because it will brown) and then put them on a sheet tray and pop them in the oven. With either choice 1 or 2 you still get warm yummy cherries. (In choice two you will toss the cherries in oil and sugar and just a pinch of salt.

At least you have the picture above to get an idea of what I’m talking about.

In cherry season I also do a cherry port sauce, but it isn’t accurate so I won’t type it out like a recipe. I make a similar version with dried cherries in the off season. Saute onions until sweet (about 15 minutes). Then toss and sauté cherries in same pan as the onions. Then put at least a half a cup of port and let it cook down a bit. Then I think I put in something savory like a little mustard or some broth or stock or even a dash of vinegar or lime juice. I’ll work on it to tell you exactly what I do, but that is the gist of it and if you do any version of this it should work. Just balance out the sweet and salty with a hint of acid. You can puree the sauce or leave it chunky.

I’ve also done cherries in port to go with a cheese course before. I just make them like I would make cherry jam except I substitute port for the liquid. (Jill Gerawan, Reedley farm-wife and jam maker extraordinaire swears by Pomona’s Universal Pectin. You can order it on-line. It is a low sugar one and the jam will gel/set without adding all the sugar. I’m famous for not measuring when I make jam and that doesn’t work with the other Sure-Jell and regular cannning brands. So I often end up with a syrup instead of a jam –which is still nice over ice cream or on crepes. But this Pomonas Universal Pectin should help. Or you can try Agar-Agar which you can buy at Whole Foods or health food stores. And while I’m thinking of it, the Agave syrup for the prementioned Salmon recipe can be found at health-food stores and Whole Foods too.)

Finally the last recipe I used for cherries is a warm cherry and apricot salad with a lemon fennel vinaigrette. I’ll send a picture of that too. It is on baby arugula. I “candy” the baby fennel. Then I take the drippings from the pan of the candied baby fennel and make the lemon fennel vinaigrette (you can do this the day before). Then just before serving I saute the apricot halves and cherry halves. Then I reheat the candied baby fennel. Then toss the arugula in the vinaigrette and then put the warm fruit around it. You could add goat cheese or shaved parmesan to this salad if you want to.
(For the new people to the recipe testing e-mail list I do usually send out actual recipes. These are just easier as descriptions at the moment until I can get something accurate)

Enjoy the cherry season!



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