Ah cherry pie, how I’ve dreamed of you. And I’ll have to keep dreaming, because there simply were not enough cherries to make pie AND jam, and the jam won.
First, some back story. When I moved to southwest Colorado, I had dreams of an orchard. I diligently researched what varieties of fruit trees would grow in zone 4, consulted with the local extension office on varieties, and ordered bare root trees, including both sweet and sour (also known as pie) cherries – along with many other species. And over the course of nine years, I proceeded to kill four, count them, four sour cherry trees. This is not to say that I planted four sour cherry trees at once and they all died, it is to say that I kept replacing the dead sour cherry tree with a live one four different times. I never understood if it was soil, location, water, gophers, spring frost or what, but it was just not meant to be.
So I was very excited to move within a quick drive of Green Bluff, the Spokane area’s U-Pick mecca, and was eagerly anticipating cherry season. The season has been late this year due to weather. The annual Cherry Pickers’ Trot was on July 15th, and I had seen the trees loaded with cherries the previous week when up for strawberry picking, so I figured showing up on July 21st wasn’t unreasonable. Wrong I was. It was as if a hoard of locusts had descended. Spokanistanians love their U-Pick. The season was late and EVERYONE had been waiting and waiting. Once cherry season was declared, it was everyone for themselves. I spoke with a local grower, and he said normally the cherries last a couple of weeks. Not this year. Thankfully, there were a few pie cherries left, high up in the trees. I managed to pick about four pounds.
This is when I learned my second important lesson. Having never actually picked cherries, since I was busy killing trees instead, I had no idea that they are actually quite a bit of work to pick. Especially the sour cherries. If you pull on the cherries themselves, they come off, leaving the stem and pit (still attached to the stem) behind. (This DOES make prepping them later a breeze.) You have to get ahold of the stem, and pull…hard. The stems are rather attached to the tree. This is not a quick and easy process, while sweating in the heat at 3:30 pm, perched atop a ladder. The local neighbor’s black lab did come out to check on me though, and once he could see I was crazy but OK he quite logically retreated back to a spot of shade.
So, 4 lbs of pie cherries and a pound of mixed Bing and Rainier cherries later, I was ready to head home with my hard one prize.
I also had this interesting observation about myself. While talking to the grower, I asked him if he had a hard time with birds eating the fruit, and we discussed starlings and robins and yellow jacket wasps (which will pierce the fruit and were a big problem for him last year). At no time did I ask him, “so, spraying any nasty pesticides I would want to know about”? Somehow, it felt a little like saying “so, nice pants you got there…your underwear clean”? I realize it is my right to know, and I should have asked, and really, in this day and age, maybe I should even expect him to advertise his horticultural practices without my having to ask. But somehow, it just felt kind of rude. Next time, I’ll be more brave (or grab a pair, as a friend of mine would say!)
Not sure how to make Cherry jam? I just follow the insert on the Sure Jel package (I use low sugar pectin because I like to have more fruit than sugar in my jams and I often have “issues” when making jam the “old fashioned” way). For a great post on the process of making sour cherry jam, check out this Food In Jars blog post.