Harvest comes in the fall for a lot of our vegetables and fruit. However, there is one fruit that can’t wait until summer is nearing the end. Cherries.
The middle of June and these orchard gems pop with color and flavor that is second to none.
When I went to the store the other day and longingly looked at a pound of these ruby red clusters of juicy fruit, it totally reminded me of the summer of 1987.
Living in the Pacific Northwest, I traveled to a little town outside of Boise, Idaho called Emmett. The agenda for the day, for my one year old girl and I, was to head off early in the morning and go to a U-pick orchard and get some cherries to can.
My little one was just learning to walk and back in those days, the ‘go to’ shoes for toddlers were white leather ankle boots that laced up. Today there are so many other options and choices for babies that are just starting to walk. A little bell on each shoe was popular too. Her shoes were new and so I put them on her, tied the white laces (without the bells) and off we went.
It was the first time I had went cherry picking by myself since I was a kid.
I was raised on a ranch and my parents had a mini-orchard. By mini, I mean 5 cherry trees. The varieties included Bing, Lambert, Royal Anne and Pie Cherries. We had other producing trees that included a walnut and apricot tree, but it was those cherry trees that stand out in my memory.
It was my sister and I that picked the cherries and if we got behind, my dad stepped in so that the birds wouldn’t pick us clean. My dad found that if he left the radio blaring below the trees, it would deter the birds. But some birds just braved that loud music and chomped on a cherry or two hundred.
We usually froze our cherries when I was young. With a huge chest freezer in our back house and frozen food lockers at our corner store in the country that was 6 miles away, we had plenty of room for our cherries and then some. We would travel 45 minutes to get more at our abundance of U-pick orchards.
Something I miss having by living in the Midwest.
Those summer days of laying in the back of our station wagon with the pallets of ‘just picked’ cherries, and popping one after one into my mouth all the way home is a sweet memory. I emphasize the word ‘sweet’!
Freezing cherries was a painless operation. Take the stems off, wash them, sort out the bad ones, plop them in a gallon freezer bag, and suck the air out with our rainbow vacuum, close them up and off to the freezer. But we always left some out for Mom to make cherry jelly with paraffin wax poured on top to seal the mix-matched jars we had saved throughout the year. My mom froze the pie cherries in, you guessed it, PIES. So storing pie cherries for the year was a little more involved than plopping them into a freezer bag. But for my mom, she always said it was just as easy to make 15 pies as it was to make one.
On this current day, heading off to the orchards with my little girl, I was going to try my hand at canning them, since I didn’t really have freezer space galore like I did when I was kid.
Entering the orchard with my toddler, I stopped and got the provided buckets they had and followed the signs to the trees that were ready to pick. The orchards had huge ladders that I was able to spot here and there and if you could maneuver them single-handedly, they provided a way to get to some alluring clusters high in the tree.
I’m the kind of person that doesn’t go for low-hanging fruit, so I grabbed a ladder and awkwardly pushed it into the branches with my eye on some of the most beautiful cherries that ever existed in this world.
Far below, was my toddler. One eye on that tempting fruit and the other eye on my baby girl below. The fruit was so plentiful, all I had to do was rake it off the branches into my bucket and soon I had picked 35 pounds in a matter of minutes.
When I finished, or rather-made myself stop, I gathered up my buckets and baby girl with her nice new white leather shoes that were now stained a new color…red. Along with her face! I didn’t care though. At 10 cents a pound, who would!
Now I just look at cherries in the store and get them for a one time treat.
I was curious and looked online at one of the orchards back in Idaho and prices have gone up slightly for U-pick. $1.50 compared to 10 cents back in the 80’s. Seems everything has taken a jump, and I never see those white leather ankle boots on babies anymore either.