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.