Friday, July 24, 2009

Cherry memories

by June

Few things stir up memories for me like sour cherries. My grandparents had a sour-cherry tree in the side yard, and summer meant us kids scrambling up, up, up into the branches to pull down a pie's worth of fruit. Then we got to hand-crank my grandmother's antique stoner to separate the pits from the tart, yellow flesh. Oh, that was fun.

But time tends to bulldoze even the dearest things. The tree and my grandmother are both gone. Her cherry stoner is lost in the family somewhere. And I have moved to a place where there is a lot of space between me and the next person who thinks there is no more beautiful sight on earth than a scarlet bubble of fruit hanging against a summer-blue sky.

New England is just not enthusiastic sour-cherry country. But, back at our first home here in Maine, we were lucky enough to live near some favorite farmers who were enthusiastic cherry-pie bakers, and they put in a double row of cherry trees that always begin to murmur my name sometime in June. Usually, by the Fourth of July, I am sitting on the porch with an olive pitter, punching out cherry stones one by one. This year, the fruit wasn't ready until mid-July, but oh the abundance.

The four of us picked thirty-three pounds in under an hour.

Which meant that we then had to go home and pit thirty-three pounds for pies and for jam and for freezing to make future pies and jam.

With an olive-pitter (or even four) that would have been an almost impossible feat. Fortunately, my mother recently gave me a gift I will treasure all my life. On one of her flea-market crawls, she unearthed a Number 16 Chop-Rite Cherry Stoner (made in Pottstown, USA). And this beautiful piece of machinery is all mine! To keep!

With one daughter at the crank, and the other feeding cherries into the chute, we got a production line whizzing that churned out gallons of cherries for the freezer, two pies, and sixteen jars of what we call "cherry pie jam."

When I eat this jam on toast or yogurt, I might as well be eating one of my grandmother's cherry pies. I'm suddenly back in her cherry tree, and my grandmother herself is standing on the ground, looking up at me and laughing and waiting for me to stop eating the cherries and bring some down so she can finish making her pie. Up in her tree, if only in my memory, oh, that is a good place to be. More jam, please.


Colleen - the AmAzINg Mrs. B said...

This post made my heart smile :-) The photos are wonderful and your writing to your Grandmother's memory a treasure. I can almost take the sour-sweet preserves on crispy toast ...Mmmm..
Have a cheery-cherry week-end and hug the kiddos for me ;-)

The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...

I saw this recipe while cruizing the web and thought....huh....more sour cherries. Might be an idea to use up some of your bounty!

Molly said...

a truly beautiful post! and the beer cake you made looks delicious - can't wait til my husband makes another batch of stout. i will definitely try making a cake with some!

sarah said...

Hi June
Cherry pie jam? Oh, that sounds good. All you need is a spoon - forget the toast.

It is so neat to see your children be a part of it all.. what great memories you are making.
My mom and dad have a sour cherry tree in their back yard. My mom freezes them each year for pies. Nothing like a cherry pie in the middle of a Montana winter. They should be ready soon. I am thinking about making jam now-- never thought of it before I read your post. Thanks!

gonzomama said...

what a great way to spend an hour! i love how the cherries are almost redder than the bucket.

thanks for the comment on my post today! it was nice to discover you : )

sarah said...

. . . as I pushed "post comment" my mom rang to tell me that the cherries were bright red and ready to pick. How funny! Anyway.. have a good night :) looks like I'll be making that jam soon.

Magnolia Handspun said...

Growing up in Norway I remember it being a summer highlight to pick cherries with my grandfather. Here in Montana they taste different not as sour...but they are also SO gooood.

(I appreciate the kind comment on my blog and I am so glad I found your wonderful blog too!)

A Friend Across the Miles said...

Hello June!

Your post has brought back such memories! My parents had a lone sour cherry tree in the yard of my childhood home. I don't remember it producing much, but I loved looking out my bedroom window at the beautiful red jewels shining in the sun.

I'm getting ready to go to Flathead Lake and buy sweet & Rainier cherries from the orchards. I thought I would dehydrate most, can some, but your cherry jam has kinda thrown me in a tizzy! I'm going to be trying that too, I think. Thank you for the inspiration!


PS: Thank you for stopping by my blog today and for leaving your kind comment. I look forward to reading all about your adventures in Maine - and continued inspiration.

gardenmama said...

Oh! Such a gorgeous post June!
A friend and I were talking today of cherry trees! She was going to go pick cherries and I had told her how the last time I picked cherries was with my Grandfather when I was a little girl he would bring my brothers and I around to each tree in his yard and carefully take out his pocket knife to slice a piece of pear or an apple and our favorites were the cherries!! Your photos are so beautiful, the colors are gorgeous! I love things like this that have such a process to them. What a great tool you now *own* sweet memories for your girls : )

Wren said...

This looks so insanely wonderful! We just put in 4 cherry trees (2 bing - 2 montgomery sour?). I am guessing it will be years before we get any. Now my mouth is watering. Going to head to the orchard and give those trees a pep talk! That cherry pitter is the greatest thing I've ever seen! What a fantastic find! Looks like the girls had a blast. Your cherry pie jam looks DE-lish!!!!

Laura A said...

Beautiful photos, and that's a very handy and pretty old-fashioned cherry stoner. I also like the way the cherries blend into that red bucket.

Ellie Mae's Cottage said...

What a heart felt post. And the photos are gorgeous! -Jackie

The Hip Homemaker said...

Right before I read your post, I read this post over at Smitten Kitchen for sour cherry slab pie. It all makes me want to go and pick up a punch of cherries right now. Yummy!

Two summers ago I canned 20 lbs of cherries from the Flathead, and I am down to 3 cans, so it is definitely time to restock. I may have to look for a vintage cherry stoner. I had never heard of one until today, but it looks so much easier then the little pitter I picked up.

Stephanie said...

Yes! more jam please... the cherries are so fresh and good. It's worth the effort (picking cherries) after all ;-) I think I will be remembering these pictures for a long time... the cherries look so appetising also. Btw, that pitter is such a clever gadget. Have a wonderful Sunday ;-D

Anonymous said...

I'm so jealous! I can't tell you how much time I;ve wasted trying to get more than a handful of cherries from my garden!

Still, at least the beautiful prose and pix soften the pain...!

June said...

Hi, everyone,

It's been so long since I've taken the time (from gardening and working and trying to be out in the sun when the sun is out) to pop into the comments and say thanks and chat a bit. But I just have to because you've all been so kind about my favorite fruit post.

Colleen: It's so so so great having you back after your ordeal. I will be thinking about you and Mr. B tomorrow. I know it's a tough time for both of you, and I admire to no end how you've kept your sense of humor.

Lisa: I want that link, please! Good to see you here.

Molly: Thanks for coming by, and I can't wait to read more about your stout-making at yours...

Sarah: I love that you have cherry memories AND that the cherries are ripe for you NOW. I hope you'll post about them. Thanks for being part of things here. I love visiting over your way.

Gonzomama: I loved discovering your blog too.

Camilla: What you do with your blog...ahhh. So happy to have you here.

Camie: Wow, I love that you have childhood memories of cherries too. Can't wait to hear what you do with yours... I'm so very happy to have found your blog and will be along for the journey.

Gardenmama: Oh, sweet memories! Thanks for sharing. And I know you appreciate a great heirloom; it's such a gift to know that my girls will appreciate this cherry stoner for as long as they can crank.

Beegirl: We are with you on the SLOW trees. The reason we still buy is because our cherry trees refuse to produce. They leaf out in a great lush boom. But no fruit. Still. We have Montmorency and North Star. Such a bummer. But glad to know we are not alone. When your family can't get a harvest, it must be the trees and not the orchard keepers, right?

Laura: Red on red. It was an amazing evening. The colors!

Jackie: Always love to find you here! And thanks for appreciating the photos. I love capturing the memories.

Hip Homemaker: I hope you find a cherry pitter. They are AWESOME. And it sounds as though you love cherries as much as we do. You NEED one!

Stephanie: Do you have sour cherries in Malaysia? I would love to hear how you use them. The jam is so wonderful.

Drooling: OH, I have wasted the time on the personal harvest too. Though I'm still hopeful that it will not be wasted in the end. C'mon, cherry trees!

Thanks for saying nice things about the prose and pix. Big compliment coming from you. I cannot get enough of your "voice."

Thanks, everyone! We love having you as friends on our blog -- and in our lives.


JGH said...

You are creating wonderful memories for your own kids, too. That jam looks SO GOOD! How cool that you now have your own cherry stoner. To tell you the truth, if I saw it at a flea market, I probably would not have known what it was.

June said...

JGH: I know! It is an odd-looking beast. I think the company makes a lot of meat grinders. Thank goodness. And it is SO NICE having the kids elbow-deep in the memory-making. We all get the giggles when the cherry juice drips off our elbows while we're picking. Thanks for coming over... Love visiting at yours.

Linda said...

Lucky you! Abundant cherries and blueberries are what we buy as soon as we get to North America. How lovely to have a whole summer ritual around your cherries.

June said...

Linda: We do love our cherry ritual. And we have a very nice blueberry tradition too, albeit one we've had to leave behind. We lived on a lake where we picked berries from our canoe. It was lovely beyond belief. No blueberries will ever taste as good.

Christina said...

Oh wow. I'm so jealous! Jealous for two reasons: you have access to sour cherries (none in this climate!) and possession of that AWESOME cherry pitter! What a gift from your mom! What's your secret for the cherry pie jam?

June said...

Christina: No cherries in southern California? That's awful! I agree that the cherry pitter is awesome. And I wish the cherry pie jam had a secret other than the wonderful cherries. After trying fancier versions, I have come back to the Ball Blue Book recipe: fruit, sugar, pectin. Like my pies, it is just fruit tasting like fruit. Which may be why we love it so.

The Cutting Edge of Ordinary said...'s the link. Sorry about that!

homehum said...

This post was such a treat! The photo of the cherries hanging on the tree...and then the tree heavy with fruit during picking...the red cherries in the red bucket...the jars of cherry preserves--gorgeous.

I loved reading about your memories of your grandmother. And, now you are creating new memories with your children that will connect them to her, sending down deep family roots.

Beautiful post.

June said...

Madrekarin: Thank you. Summer memories, how I love to hear them. Thanks for sharing. And do see what's at the market for cherries!

Lisa: Thank you, dear friend!

Homehum: Thank you. I do think about how my children are connected to my grandmother with traditions. She would have adored them, and they would have thought she was the funniest great-grandma ever.

tom tall clover farm said...

June, thanks to you I'm in hot pursuit of a cherry pitter um there are some fine vintage ones out there. Apple season is just around the corner, and may I suggest if you don't have one, to keep your eyes open for apple peeler/corers. Forget the vacuum counter versions and go with counter clamp type. I love mine and it supplies my apple pie obsession nicely.

June said...

OH, Tom, you of all people need a cherry pitter for that crop of yours. Please let us know what you come up with, and we will let you know how our apple peeler/corer treasure hunt goes. THANK YOU!

tom tall clover farm said...

Well June, success! I found a choprite cherry pitter on ebay. I was too late for sour cherry season and the choprite is not well suited to seed oversized bings, so just wait until next year; cherry pie for breakfast, lunch and dinner!

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