Loretta Robertoy remains my go-to whenever cherry pie demands my attention. Answering the phone at Hyline Orchards since 1958, the matriarch of the orchard and farm market calls Fish Creek, Wisconsin home. I’ve been chatting with her since 1984 when we first opened A Slice of Heaven in Philadelphia. Loretta is a great-grandmother these days, but continues to run the business alongside her husband, Marvin. Hyline cherries played a prominent role in A Slice of Heaven’s menu, featured not only in pie but enhancing steaming bowls of steel cut oatmeal for breakfast. Cherries arrived frozen in plastic tubs, methodically wrapped in the Advocate, the local newspaper, then slipped into large plastic bags and knotted securely. The knots reflected Midwestern capability- sturdy, no-nonsense and requiring a dickens of a time to undo. I suspect that Loretta implemented the non-negotiable tying of the knots. Loretta has consistently provided cherry support when I needed it most.
When cherry pie was on the menu for Molly O’Neill’s expansive LongHouse Food Revival in Rensselaerville, NY, I called Loretta. It was Loretta who saved me from a commitment I had made for a ridiculous number of cherry pies for Showtime’s Tribute To Twin Peaks, in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, a few years back. And for the past 8 years, when Cupid schedules a February fly-by through Maplewood, NJ, Loretta’s phone rings in Fish Creek.
Connecting with Loretta by phone is not always easy. Loretta divides her time between the house and the store, and has no interest in computer generated customer relations. Loretta retains most information in her head, which she then transfers to an order pad of fine lined paper. Non-smudge resistant carbon paper provides the duplicate copy which is kept somewhere on Loretta’s desk. The challenge in ordering from Loretta is that her long-term memory insists that I still own a restaurant in Philadelphia.
“You’re in Pennsylvania, aren’t ya?” she always says when we finally get down to the business of my shipping address.
“No, not anymore,” I remind her. “I’m in New Jersey.”
“Right,” Loretta replies. “Let me have your address again at the restaurant.”
“It’s a bakery,” I remind her. “The restaurant was in Philadelphia a long time ago. I’m in New Jersey now.”
“We’ll ship these out in a few days. You should have them next week, unless the weather is bad. It might take a little longer.”
It always takes a little longer because Loretta is a busy woman. Sometimes the shipping department at Hyline Orchards needs a gentle reminder, a second phone call. Always surprised that the cherries haven’t yet shipped, Loretta lets me know that she’s currently in the house but will walk over to the store and get things rolling. This second phone call gives us an opportunity to revisit my current address, and reminisce about the time the cherries were sent to Philadelphia.
On our most recent phone call, Loretta told me that the Winter Carnival was scheduled for the weekend, and despite the mild weather forecast, if there was an abundance of snow, the cherries might not ship for a few days. I told her I understood, gave her my address once again, and promised I’d call when the cherries arrived.
Three days later, a weighty corrugated box arrived, postmarked Fish Creek, Wisconsin. Still frosty on the inside, the label advised, Door County Frozen Cherrys.
Keep Frozen – and then in fine print, “Use in your favorite cherry pie recipe or as a topping or eat as they are.” Pretty good cherry advice, no doubt dictated by Loretta. After unwrapping the box and securing two tubs in the walk-in and two tubs in the overcrowded freezer, I stepped outside and called Loretta to let her know the cherries had arrived. The phone rang and rang until I was just about to hang up. Finally Loretta answered, slightly breathless. “I was in the house,” she replied. “Did you get the cherries?”
Of course, I did.
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Professional Pie-isms & Seasonal Sarcasm