When you’ve got a good thing going with a local ingredient, you tend to put it in everything. In parts of Michigan, where a fruit belt stretches along its eponymous lake, that means the sour cherry crop. Cherry pie, cherry juice, cherry BBQ sauce, cherry wine … tart cherries appear in everything, including burgers.
Michigan cherry burgers are most strongly associated with Ray Pleva, a businessman who sold cherry-enhanced products ranging from jerky to bologna. (He sold his company, but it’s still named after him.) Pleva even got Oprah talking about cherry burgers.
Pleva blended pureed cherries into beef patties to make his cherry burger. This approach changes the consistency of the burger, but won’t result in meat with a particularly strong cherry flavor. Some say fruit puree makes a juicier burger, but the main benefit touted is reduced fat and calories. In the ’80s and ’90s, when trimming fat was a health obsession, pureed-fruit patties made it into school lunches nationwide (pruneburgers almost became a staple of American childhood). You can still find these cherry burgers in a number of Michigan school cafeterias. For those a little older than the school-lunch crowd, The Cherry Hut in Beulah, Michigan, is an iconic spot for a pureed-cherry burger.