If there’s anything as “American as apple pie,” it’s probably cherry pie. And Deborah Olson’s cherry pie has been honored with a coveted spot on New York Times food columnist Marion Burros’ holiday gift list.
Carl and Hannah Olson, the couple who planted their first cherry tree here in 1899, were the great grandparents of present owner Deborah Olson. Carl arrived in the United States from Sweden after the Civil War. His experience using explosives in mines in Sweden landed him work for the railroad, and he followed the railroads to San Francisco, where in 1875 he met and married Hannah.
The area, now known as Silicon Valley, was called the Valley of Heart’s Delight then. Land was going for $250 an acre, and if you came down from San Francisco to look at it, the developer would pay your train fare and throw in a free barbecue lunch.
Other farmers in the area were planting apricots and prunes, but Carl decided on cherries. He sold some of his crop locally and the rest he hauled by wagon 5 miles to Alviso where a boat would pick them up and take them up to San Francisco. The reputation of Carl Olson’s cherries was one of the reasons Sunnyvale was considered the prime cherry-growing area in the country.
Carl and Hannah’s son Rual Charles continued the tradition and passed it along to his son Charlie and granddaughter Deborah. Rual built the original fruit stand for his wife Rosie in 1933, who made it a successful business.
The Olson farm stand is still in the same spot today, situated in the middle of Sunnyvale. The present stand was built under Deborah’s guidance. She was able to capture the flavor and feeling of the original stand by using some of the wood and crates from the old barn. The family still operates a Blenheim apricot and cherry orchard nearby. Customers enjoy the local fruit, as well as fruit from farms in various counties of California. Deborah also finds outstanding California specialty products to sell at the stand.
“Growing up in our family, summertime meant helping out at the farm stand and in the apricot cutting sheds. The kids had lots of fun while we were working, ending the day with throwing mushy apricots at each other,” Deborah says with a laugh.
Another pleasure was learning to cook from her Grandma Rose. “My delight in cooking led to a B.S. degree in Food and Nutrition, and I dreamed of going on to one of the large cooking schools in Paris.” She acted on that dream, receiving a diploma from La Varenne and then apprenticing in a wide variety of culinary styles, including spa cuisine. She studied with Chef Gauzere in Biarritz , Chef Fusero at the Hotel L’Hermitage in Monte Carlo and other kitchens in Monaco. Next she enjoyed a working holiday with Chef Michel Guerard in Eugenie-les-Bains and Chef Patrick Perfendie in his restaurant L’Agustine, outside of Paris. “I remember making chocolate truffles and getting more on my apron than on the platter. Maybe that’s another way to create diet food!”
Using her culinary training and her access to the best fruit imaginable, Deborah has written a cookbook with family fruit recipes: “Life Is a Bowl of Olson’s Cherries.”
The old and the new combine harmoniously at this famous farm stand – a slice of the country in the middle of a city. Visitors from all over the United States as well as those from other countries come to taste and purchase the Olson’s families cherries and other gourmet products, to take the orchard tours and enjoy the festivals. “People are willing to come from a long way for our cherries,” Deborah says proudly.