I‘m infamous for my love of tart cherries.
When I interviewed for this job, I demonstrated that I have some semblance of knowledge about ingredients by comparing and contrasting two different varieties of cherries and their best uses.
For several years, my very dear friend Marilyn used to get one of the varieties, the darker and slightly less sour Balatons, for me at the Wednesday farmers’ market in Ann Arbor; I couldn‘t get there myself because of work, and these are more difficult to find, so she didn’t want me missing out.
At a family gathering one summer, I climbed up on a ladder to gather the other variety, the more common bright red Montmorencies, from the tree in my cousin‘s backyard, thrilled to find a ready and free supply.
When my best friend, Wendy, gives my eulogy some day, she will mention the cherry fixation.
But this year, I don’t have any. I’m in Toledo now, and farmers don‘t seem to grow the tart cherries here. I’ve spoken with every farm and market and orchard in the area, because so many friends have been trying valiantly to offer a source, a suggestion, a solution.
Some of the markets are ordering frozen, pitted cherries to sell, but I‘m looking for fresh ones. One person I spoke with told me that there just isn’t a demand for cherries anymore unless they‘re prepped and ready to use. And, of course, the last few harsh winters have been devastating to fruit trees both here and in Michigan, limiting the supply.
I could have gone up to Ann Arbor, though a two-hour round trip seems a long schlep just for cherries. And I would have had to coordinate with the various farmers’ markets schedules, which just didn’t seem to work out in this particularly busy period for me with multiple meetings and events to attend during the fruit‘s prime season in early July.
I could drive down to Eshleman’s Fruit Farm in Clyde, OH, the one place I‘ve found where pre-orders were being taken last week for fresh tart cherries that will arrive soon from out-of-state. But that, too, would also require significant driving and gas money, in addition to then finding time to pit the cherries. At what point do the investments of time and money become prohibitive?
My son Jeremy, who‘s 23, said, “I can’t remember, in my entire lifetime, your not having cherries to pit.” I can‘t remember the last summer I didn’t have hand-pitted, homemade cherry pie, cobbler, and/or jam, not to mention a stash of fruit for the freezer.
And when I say “hand-pitted,” I really mean it. Because this is the secret to my obsession with the cherries being fresh, as opposed to merely acquiring cherries in any form: I use my late maternal grandmother’s antique cherry pitter, and take each fruit in my fingertips one-by-one. I‘m the last fool, apparently, who still does this seemingly tedious work, and does it with love and passion and glee.
Each summer, I have a routine: I sit outside in the sunshine, partly because it‘s just nice to be outdoors and partly because this is a sticky job and there’s no need to make a mess in the kitchen. I lay out an enormous bowl of washed cherries, a bowl for pits and stems, and another enormous bowl for the final pitted product.
Then I pick some tunes to listen to, pick up my grandmother’s cherry pitter, pick up a cherry and get to work.
This is a rhythmic activity, so it‘s very calming ... almost meditative.
There are so many cherries, and so many ways to use them.
But not this year, it seems.
In exchange for the cherries, though, I‘ve been given wonderful friends and fabulous opportunities here. In my quest to find cherries locally, I’ve learned a lot about the broader Northwest Ohio area and previously undiscovered markets to shop at.
I‘m in a new city, a new home, a new job, and a new life. Marilyn, a very wise woman, told me to “Accept that some things change in a year.”
This is true. I just wasn’t ready for one of those things to be my cherry pitting tradition.