Food, Drink & Blue Angels open the 2014 National Cherry Festival

The 88th annual National Cherry Festival kicks off next weekend with the Blue Angels and three food events at the Hagerty Center right on the shore of Grand Traverse Bay. Read on for all the details!

Great-American-PicnicThe weekend begins with the Great American Picnic on Friday, July 4th at 12:30 PM and features cold beverages, entertainment, games and the U.S. Navy Blue Angels’ practice show. Festival Guest Chef Stephanie Wiitala of Black Star Farms is coordinating the weekend’s food events this year and explains, “The Great American Picnic came about because the Cherry Festival decided to open a day early to take advantage of the Blue Angels practice show. We are at the Hagerty Center all weekend for food events, and the outdoor courtyard is such a fun and easy place for people to watch the show from. It will be a really nice, family centered event. Guests will be able to grab their plates and enjoy a buffet with traditional picnic foods like BBQ Pulled Pork w Cherry Mustard Glaze on brioche buns with pickled onions, all beef hot dogs, a mac & cheese gratin, coleslaw, corn on the cob, watermelon and ice cream.”

Families are encouraged to bring a picnic blanket to spread out (tables and chairs provided) and tickets are $25 for adults and $13 for children 12 and under.

blues-brews-bbqsOn Saturday, the new Blues, Brews & BBQ event features microbrew & ciders from breweries including Beggars Brewery, Right Brain, Samuel Adams and New Holland. A couple highlights are the Sam Adams Cherry Wheat featuring TC cherries and New Holland’s Paleooza featuring locally grown Empire hops. Attendees have a chance to enjoy music from the TNT Blues Band, great food & drink and vote for a variety of best BBQ categories including best BBQ featuring cherries and best use of a Microbrew beer in a BBQ sauce. In addition to the BBQs, Stephanie is preparing some great sides with a vegetarian angle including a BBQ warm fingerling potato salad with brewery mustard salad dressing, grilled watermelon salad with arugula, cherry wine reduction and feta cheese, a grilled corn & tart cherry salsa with tortilla chips and for dessert, S’mores on a Stick!

The event includes viewing of the Blue Angels show. Adult tickets are $40, children 12 and under are $20 and a

The weekend closes with Cherries D’Vine featuring local wines paired with dishes from local chefs and the Sunday Blue Angels show. Some of the featured businesses Boathouse, Black Star Farms, Bel Lago, Chateau Chantal, Fustini’s and Michelle’s Miracle who will offer up a Tart Cherry Kale Salad. Tickets are $40 and the cost includes 4 food and 4 wine tastings with additional tastes available for purchase be purchased separately.  A combo ticket is available featuring access to Blues, Brews, and BBQ and Sunday’s Cherries D’vine is available for a total of $75.

Although we all can get a little “cherry overload” up here, Stephanie says she’s a big fan. “I grew up in the area, and cherries have always been a highlight. For me as a chef, the cherry is a sexy little flirty thing. Of all the fruits, I think it’s the one that hits all your senses. It starts with that deep, purply red color that draws you in and the smell that says ‘summer’ to me. Next you get the texture: crisp outside and juicy on the inside. Finally, cherries have a range of flavor from sour to sweet that you can play off in all kinds of dishes. Of course, they can be a little bit naughty if you’re not careful because of the pits!”

For up-to-the-minute schedule information visit or call (231) 947-4230.

Bacon wrapped water chestnuts with cherry berry jam from Cherries D’Vine

12 strips of bacon
1 small can of water chestnuts
1 jar of your favorite cherry jam or a cherry wine reduction
Pinch of sea salt

  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
  2. In a large mixing bowl, add the cherry jam
  3. Cut bacon in half. Wrap one slice of bacon around each chestnut. Secure the bacon with a toothpick. Arrange the water chestnut wraps in a 9×13 inch baking dish.
  4. Bake the water chestnut wraps for 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Remove from water chestnut wraps from the oven and drain some of the grease out of the pan. Toss the sauce over the wraps in the large bowl.
  6. Bake for 30 to 35 more minutes
  7. Garnish with a pinch of salt and herbs
  8. Serve warm

Click for a video with Stephanie from WZZM featuring this recipe.