Loretta is my go-to Cherry Girl. She is the matriarch at Hyline Orchard and Farm Market in Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Established in 1958, Hyline boasts (rightfully so) all things cherry and then some.
Loretta and I became acquainted by telephone in 1984 when I started ordering Wisconsin cherries for the restaurant. We served them at breakfast on top of steaming bowls of oatmeal (healthy) alongside small pitchers of heavy cream (not) and pure maple syrup (delicious). We also tucked them inside pie crusts and under blankets of cobbler biscuits.
I can’t do the math (obviously) but over the ten years we were in business, we ordered more than our fair share of cherries from Hyline. Unearthing the phone number recently, I was fairly certain the line would be either disconnected or answered by a computer generated voice. I nearly dropped the phone when the voice on the other end of the line was unmistakably Loretta’s.
Loretta’s voice is equal parts grandmotherly warmth and no nonsense shipping department efficiency. “When do ya need 'em?” she would ask. I envisioned her on a single line Bell telephone armed with a three part order form, carbon paper separating the invoice from the packing slip. Out of courtesy she would ask my delivery preference but clearly Loretta was running the cherry show. Depending on the weather and the time of day, she would reply, “I’ll get 'em right out” ensuring delivery within 3 days. If it was particularly warm or nearing the weekend, she would most likely postpone things a bit.
Cherries arrived in plastic tubs, methodically wrapped in the ‘Advocate’ newspaper then slid into large plastic bags and knotted most efficiently. I suspect Loretta had instructed the shipping department in the tying of those knots. They were nearly impossible to undo but well worth the struggle.
The rewards were two-fold; the Door County Advocate from Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin was newsworthy, printing articles about folks vastly different from those featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer. Perusing the obituaries, I realized many of the deceased had lived to be nearly 100 years old or better. Decades of consuming local cherries probably contributed to the hardiness of folks living in that beautiful stretch of Wisconsin. Finally the tub itself- the outside emblazoned with a label boasting all the particulars:
and inside, burgundy cherries both sweet and tart, still frozen, the layer of ice crystals at the top forming the very best cherry slurpee ever.
Loretta recalled shipping cherries to the restaurant in Chestnut Hill. “You were just outside Philadelphia. That was a few years ago…” She continued, “You know, I have to credit my grandkids for putting us on the Internet.” Could it be? Quickly Googling Hyline Orchards and sure enough, there they were complete with color photos and an exhaustive list of their product line. The ordering process however, was the same. “When do ya need ‘em?” Loretta asked. Sooner than later I explained. “I’ll get 'em right out.” Time warp. I asked her if everything was computerized. “Oh no, I don’t use that. If I need something from the computer, I go and get my grandkids.” We talked pies, prices. She wondered what pies went for down in “the city” and when I told her, silence. Then, “Oh no, I don’t charge that much for a pie.” I suggested she could probably raise her pie prices just the slightest without meeting much resistance. Down here, pie is the new cupcake. Again silence. I suggested that up there, pie is still pie. She laughed. “Yes it is."
Three days later, the cherries arrived. Packaging was exactly the same, plastic tubs wrapped in the Door County Advocate, slid into plastic bags, tied with that inimitable knot. I looked at the order form/packing slip. Same handwriting, blue ink pen on white note pad, carbon copy in yellow. Loretta, steadfast at the helm of Hyline Orchard where cherries remain delicious and pie is still pie. Thank goodness.