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Festival blossoms with sweet cherries

Festival blossoms with sweet cherries

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Celebrating what local growers call the “best tasting cherries in the U.S.,” the Polson Main Street Flathead Cherry Festival continued its tradition of drawing visitors from around the nation and neighbors from around the corner.

The two-day event branches throughout the downtown’s side streets, offering crafts, tasty treats, and, when Mother Nature times harvest perfectly, fresh local cherries. 

This year’s early ripening crop was abundant in some places, including Holly Wurl’s 50-year-old HLW Orchard on Finley Point. Somehow she dodged the rain and the freeze that wreaked havoc on other cherries.

“I was very, very fortunate,” Wurl said as she stood ready to sell Lambert cherries picked the same morning. “It’s a magical orchard that makes fabulous cherries.”

But the magic didn’t happen for some growers further up the east shore of Flathead Lake, which is usually an agricultural mecca for orchards. But unusually warm January days and single-digit temperatures at night made early-arriving buds expand and contract, causing many to die in winter, according to Gary Johnson of The Orchard at Flathead Lake in the Yellow Bay area. Then when spring arrived early, a patchy bunch of blooms were too premature for the still-hibernating bees to pollinate, he explained. 

Yet his organic cherry jellies were selling well at the festival. 

“Today has been great. In fact, we’ve sold out of some things,” Johnson said. Hopefully there’s enough cherries still in the freezer to pull through one more season of jam making, he added.

Cherry pies sold quickly, as they usually do.

Ellen Achenbaugh has been coming to the Cherry Festival for 11 years but never arrived in time to purchase a pie — until this year.

“So I ordered two,” she said as she waited for more pies to arrive at the Montecahto Club booth.

By 2 p.m. on Saturday, club members who baked 130 pies and more than 300 cherry turnovers were grabbing pies they were going to save for Sunday. 

“We’ve got 24 pies left,” club member Kari Nelson said. 

When the pies sold out, the club still offered cherry-themed aprons, tote bags and a king size quilt to raffle for their summer fundraiser. 

Up the street, vendor Krista Meyer cuddled her 1-year-old daughter Addalynn as she displayed her engraved river rocks with her business aptly titled, “Message in a Stone.”

“We cut memorials and welcome rocks, anything you can think of,” she said. And yes, the rocks come from Montana.

“That’s a commonly asked question,” she said.

Members of the Polson Business Community that co-sponsors the festival with the Flathead Lake Cherry Growers, Inc. juiced loads of lemons for their fresh squeezed cherry lemonade, with proceeds benefiting the Polson Beautification Committee.

The number of lemons squished was undetermined.

“Nobody’s counting. We’re just squeezing,” Realtor Irene Marchello said. 

Staying cool with a red, white and blue shaved ice, 10-year-old Emma Kupper’s cone mirrored her patriotic Old Glory shirt, and her residence in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania — the birthplace of America. Her brother, Tommy Kupper, 11, was asked what he noticed in Montana that was different from his home state.

“There’s a lake,” he said. “And everyone dresses like cowboys.”

Emma participated in the pit spitting contest held Saturday, but didn’t win. “Not even,” she said.

Winners of the pit spitting and Sunday’s cherry pie eating contest included:

 

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