For the last several years, in the dead of winter when the produce is scarce, I have sworn to myself that I will collect the bounty of summer the following year, and store it away. And then the summer flies by, jam-packed with camping trips and family visits. Every week I think, “maybe next week”. Then the produce falls to the ground and is gone. And it is winter again. This year I have motivated to at least get cherries in the freezer!
My aunt and uncle, Dana and Dave Meyer, have a cherry orchard in The Dalles, Oregon. My very first job was working on that orchard….hiking all over the orchard in the summer sun, keeping track of how many buckets of cherries each picker picked. Fast forward 10-ish years and I also got married on that orchard. It’s a beautiful place with views of the Gorge and Mt. Hood. Last weekend we went there to pick some cherries to freeze for the winter. (Thanks Dana and Dave!)
But this leads to the difficult thing about harvests: it all comes at once. Whatever type of fruit or vegetable crop it may be, there is a time of year when it is all ripe at the same time and it’s all you can do to get it off the plant in time. I don’t know a solution to the amount of time it takes to process the produce; whether pitting, or boiling, or cutting in order to freeze or can. Other than just deciding it’s important and making it happen.
It also tends to be expensive to purchase all the equipment you seem to need for this. In this realm, I am a big fan of thinking outside the box. Think of the function that needs to be fulfilled, not the culturally acceptable easy answer. I don’t own an electric mixer of any kind, but I make really great baked goods. I asked my German grandmother (Oma), who grew up on a rural farm in Yugoslavia where her father made wooden shoes, what they did for the lids of canning jars (because here we are told we must buy disposable lids). She said they used animal intestines tied on that would shrink to fit the top. In the modern day USA where she lives now, she doesn’t use intestines, but she also doesn’t buy jar lids. She saves jars with the pop-top lids (like spaghetti sauce or jam jars), and reuses them. Did you know that those lids will reseal over and over and over again?
I don’t own a cherry pitter, so I was intrigued when Dana told me she had heard of a unique method of pitting cherries. I tried it, and it worked great! Here is what you do:
1. Find an empty wine bottle and clean/sanitize the top. Wash and sanitize a pair of chopsticks.
2. Wash some cherries that you want to pit, and pull off the stems.
3. Place one cherry on top of the wine bottle, top side up.
4. Use the blunt end of a chopstick to push the pit through the cherry and into the wine bottle.
5. Put the cherry in the bag/jar/etc. you are using
6. If you are freezing the cherries, rather than putting them directly into a bag and then into the freezer, lay them out on a cookie sheet and put that in the freezer. Once they freeze, dump the frozen cherries into a bag and put that in the freezer. This way the cherries don’t stick together in a big clump and you can pour out the amount you want. They are frozen individually.
(P.S. I hate that we freeze things in disposable plastic. It is on my list of things to do to research other ways to freeze produce that do not involve plastic bags. I considered the glass Pyrex with lids, but they are very expensive, and I’d need a lot for that many cherries. Any suggestions from anyone out there? For this year I just grabbed the freezer bags from the store to get the job done. But would love to fine a better solution by next year. I know you can reuse them…but not forever. If you do this every year, think of how many bags you’d go through in a lifetime!!)
If you don’t have an aunt or uncle with a cherry orchard and you’d like to harvest some free or cheap produce, check out Urban Edibles. It is a website where people place dots on a map where you can harvest food. Such as pear trees in the public right-of-way; or people who have an apple tree in their backyard that they don’t pick and it all goes to waste. You can search by types of produce, or see what’s close to your location. Last year my friend Heather and I planned to harvest boxes of pears and apples to can for the winter. It never happened. Perhaps this is the year!