A bit about us...

We are a modern family of three, living on less than two acres with a 3,000 square foot garden that meets our produce needs and allows us to share with friends and neighbors. Our laying flock of chickens seems to expand each year as we raise chicks each Spring to replace older hens. This blog is more of a journal, if you will, for us to chronicle and share our experiences in the yard, garden and kitchen. It is our hope that along the way a few folks might learn something, be entertained, or simply enjoy sharing in our stories and the lessons we learn on a daily basis. I named the blog after the times when I am the happiest, when I am elbow deep in earth.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Tart (sour) cherries are in Season!

After sweet cherries, the next to be ready in the orchards are tart cherries.  Kapnick Orchards doesn't offer u-pick tart cherries, but thankfully, our more local favorite, Wasem's does!  We go to Wasem's every year for apple picking and I always think I will come back earlier in the season for their other treasures, but I never seem to make the time.  Not this year.  Tart cherries, gooseberries and currants all come into season quite close to one another, so it was time to make a visit. I had to work on the day picking opened, so I headed out with Mom to see what we could come up with on the second day.  We gathered up containers to pick into and arrived just after lunch.  At Wasem's, they have pre-weighed containers (buckets of all sizes) for picking, so we left ours in the car.  We selected two large buckets to collect our haul in, and two smaller buckets that would be easier for picking. (They also seemed logically sized for picking currants and gooseberries after the cherries.)

The first trees we came to were taller and more mature than the ones further into the orchard.  We guessed that the best production would be on the older trees, so I climbed a provided orchard ladder and set to work.  I was immediately disappointed at the over ripeness and poor condition of the cherries.  It was  going to take forever to pick at this rate!  A kind gentleman stopped his minivan long enough to let us know we were really picking in the wrong spot.  He approached us, saying something in his native language, presumably one of some Slavic decent.  When I responded, "Pardon me?" he laughed at himself for speaking in his native tongue and repeated himself in English, telling us that there were loads of trees just further down the lane with much better and easier picking to be had.  We didn't have to be told twice!  I climbed off the ladder and we headed for the other trees.  He wasn't joking!

The trees were younger, easier to reach, and loaded with beautiful, perfect, ripe tart cherries! Many trees could be reached entirely from the ground, the rest I could pick from the top using just my little step ladder from home.  We picked until we thought we had enough, then picked some more. The prices were so reasonable and I knew I wanted to put up a mess of them, so I kept picking until I was just spent with the whole process.  While we were picking (Mom was able to reach most from the ground), a woman and her two children arrived to pick their share.  We learned her name was Christine.  She had a sweet little girl, Anika, who was 7, and a little boy, likely around 24 months or younger, named Griffin.  Anika helped her brother pick and kept him out of trouble while her mother worked hard to pick as many as possible before the kids lost interest.  My mom noticed how much Anika seemed to enjoy picking, so she took a break from our collection to hold down some limbs within the little girl's reach.

Both she and her mother were grateful.  We had a wonderful chat with Christine and her children and it was heartwarming to see others who believe kids should see where their food comes from.

Once we were through, Mom and I took our bounty to the store on site to be weighed and kept cool while we picked currants and gooseberries.  We may have overdone ourselves a smidge.  When we came in from picking the rest of our fruit, I noticed the little cardboard note lying on top of my cherries; it read 27#.  We had 14.5 pounds in one bucket and 12.5 in the other.  Oops.  What was I thinking?  Now we were going to have to pit them all!

We transferred the cherries to our own containers for transport and set out for home (all two or three miles of our journey - the orchard is VERY local!).  Mom set herself up in the backyard, under the shade of a large silver maple, sitting for hours, washing, sorting and pitting cherries.

She made excellent use of my awesome Pampered Chef olive/cherry pitter to pit every one by hand.  As we did not have a table the right height and size, we set her up with a little assembly line using a side table and the frame for one of my outdoor ottomans.  It seemed to work well, as she got through all but the last couple pounds before she simply wore out and went home.  I would estimate she pitted around 25 lbs of cherries that Friday.

While the chickens kept Mom company, I went inside to begin freezing the ones she had finished.  Like the sweet cherries, I laid them out on a cookie sheet to freeze individually and transfer later into freezer bags.  When I noticed my neighbor, Mrs. N. arriving home, I walked over to offer her some of the bounty.  I knew I had too many, and she loves to bake, so it seemed like a perfect fit.  She was delighted to take some for pies and she kept Mom company for a spell while she pitted some more!

We have a perfect set up for cleaning fruit in the backyard.  Plentiful shade, a place for all the required dishes, and a garden sink to wash them in.  I spent the money for this little sink a few years ago and have never been sorry.  It is so handy for washing veggies straight from the garden before taking them in the house, or simply washing hands between chores.

In this case, the colander fit just perfectly between the edges of the sink, allowing for easy washing of the cherries!

While we were at the orchard, as I mentioned, it was our intent to pick currants and gooseberries, in addition to the tart cherries.  The red currants were ready, the black were not, and gooseberries were being heavily picked as well.  We took our small buckets and headed out to the patch with these treasures in it.  The currents were just beautiful, hanging like tiny red grape clusters from the plants.

I plucked as many as I could, with the hot sun of a near 90 degree day hurrying me along.  In the end, we took home just under 2.75 lbs of red currants.  The gooseberries were another story all together.  They are a terribly odd looking fruit that grows on a VERY thorny bush.  I attempted to pick some, but was met with bloody knuckles almost immediately.  After having been in the sun for a couple hours already, I decided I was not tough enough to pursue the gooseberries further. Maybe next year.

So, home we came with 27 pounds of cherries and 2.75 lbs of tart red currants.  How shall I preserve this bounty?  I will talk about that in my next entry!

You can see what I did with them in Preserving the cherries and currants.

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