Cherry picking on a warm summer afternoon

11 Jul

One of the things I like about Buffalo is its proximity to both the country and city. If I want the big city life, theatres and boutique shopping and art galleries, I drive twenty minutes in one direction. If I want big, wide open spaces, somewhere, say, to go cherry picking, I drive twenty minutes the other direction. I’m also only twenty minutes from Canada and, even cooler, Niagara Falls—something people come from all over the world, especially China it seems, to witness. Niagara Falls is spectacular but, like many things you live close to, for some reason I hardly visit it, maybe just once per year.

Today I drove—or rather, my friend drove—twenty minutes towards the country, where we picked cherries, blueberries and raspberries. But mostly cherries. I am a newbie cherry picker. I had never done it before, much less even tasted a cherry straight from the tree. Driving there I asked, “Are cherries on trees or bushes?” That’s how little I knew of the fruit. I learned quickly that they fill trees in clusters, hanging from the branches like bunches of grapes. Except for the hard round pit in their center, cherries not only look like but taste to me like grapes, just more tart. The kind that were left when we arrived were yellowy red, the tart variety. The sweet, cherry red ones had already been picked. But this was no disappointment. I wanted the tart ones anyway, for baking. I grabbed a bucket lined with a plastic bag and headed toward the grove. Standing underneath the low, twisting trees, I looked upwards and spotted the clusters. To reach the best ones, the most ripened, the ones kissed most often by the sun, I dragged a ladder over and climbed it to the top, looping my bucket handle around the knob on a sturdy branch so I could use both hands for picking. Then, everyone was on the ground, reaching on their tippy toes for the ones that drooped low, and I was high, surrounded by green, and the cherries were so close all I had to do was reach in any direction and pull. They dropped with near soundless thuds into the bucket, and even though the sound could barely be heard, it was satisfying, for I knew that now, the bucket was filling fast.

I paid for my bucket of cherries, which were not cheap, at $21.50. Now they’re in the dark  and cool caverns of my refrigerator, waiting to be pitted—something that will taken a very long time to do but will be worth it in the end—and then turned into cherry cobbler or cherry pie or cherry turn-overs or simply eaten as snacks on a hot summer day. My whole family will enjoy them. As I stood high on that ladder earlier today, I considered how I always get my food, from the grocery store, and how little I think about where it comes from, the farm. My food is pre-wrapped, pre-packaged, pre-washed, as if it sprouted from the grocery shelves. Author Heather Lende—who lives and writes in Haines, Alaska—says that there’s something so beautiful about eating food you’ve grown and prepared yourself, one has a deeper appreciation for the earth and the bounty she provides. She makes canned salmon and also jam, from the berries grown near her house, and her husband hunts goat and even bear. I did not grow the cherries, but as I was high on the ladder picking then, I pondered these things, and I think she’s right. The cherries I tasted then tasted better than store-bought fruit. They were warm from the sun, and when the juice broke through the skin, it was sweet and tart and unlike anything I’ve tasted before. I climbed down the ladder, and someone else ascended into the shady branches. Then I headed to the raspberry bushes, where the delicate berries were so ripe that they nearly fell into my fingers. All I had to do was reach for them.

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One Response to “Cherry picking on a warm summer afternoon”

  1. Grayquill July 11, 2011 at 4:45 am #

    I picked cherries as a child but that was many many many moons ago. I had rasberrries lastyear but tore them out in hopes of grapes in a year or two. I liked your thoughts about growing something and it adding a pleasure factor to the eating. Good post once again.

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