Over the past few days I have noticed that there have been a great number of robins hanging around the large cherry tree on our property. Usually this means that the fruit is starting to ripen, but I had my doubts since this is very early to have ripe cherries in this part of Nova Scotia. After watching the birds flying back and forth, chasing each other and causing an amusing ruckus, I decided that I should wander over to the tree to investigate. Much to my surprise there were a fair number of cherries ready to pick. I should mention that these are black cherries which are perfectly good to eat. but they are not as sweet as bing cherries. At our house this fruit is usually used for jams, pies, jellies and a cherry sauce which goes well on pancakes. I refuse to admit that the cherry sauce was discovered only after a failed batch of jelly.
Knowing that the fruit was ready, I hustled myself back into the house where I created my annual berry picking apparatus. Essentially, the apparatus is a ice cream container with a string I can loop around my neck. This allows me to pick with both hands and not worry about spilling the fruit. While this is not great for strawberries, it works wonderfully for cherries, high bush blueberries and raspberries. Since the previous year's version usually disappears into the recycling bin by the first of October, I get the fun of creating a new piece of industrial art every summer. After about an hour of picking (while the fruit was ripe it was still somewhat sparse), I had enough cherries to head inside to get the rest of the process moving.
My least favorite part of the process is pitting the cherries. In fact, this is the only part of the process that I would actually consider work. I pit the cherries by hand. I have seen and tried many different pitting tools, but, for these little cherries, I still find fingers to be the most useful. The problem when pitting cherries is that the juice tends to spray all over the place. The flying juice is fairly heedless of clothing or anything else within spraying distance. An apron or old clothes are a necessity. If you take a look at the white plastic table covering you can see some of the juice spatter. The other element of pitting is that it is a fairly mindless and repetitive activity. Some background music or an interesting program on the radio help reduce the tedium.
This particular batch of cherries were destined to become jam. I have previously mused about jams and jellies as a viable culinary link between ourselves and our ancestors. I really have no need to make jam, I can easily purchase every flavour I could ever ask for. Despite this, I personally feel that it is important to maintain some of the authentic flavours and cooking techniques of previous generations. For me this includes eating locally grown products and making preserves. While this is a matter of choice rather than a matter of necessity, I still feel that this is a viable way to keep in contact with important traditions. Best of all, the efforts of a warm July day will be appreciated on a cold February morning when one of these jars is popped open.
All for now,