I felt like a real pioneer woman today as I headed into the cherry orchard at a nearby fruit farm. Laden with my biggest mixing bowls and pots, I walked past groups of Amish women filling baskets with cherries and found a secluded spot where the trees were actually drooping with fruit. I started out with sour cherries, which pop off the tree and get my hands all sticky. They are easy to freeze and I like to use them in baking throughout the winter. Then I moved on to the dark, sweet cherries that are such a treat to eat.
I’ve only recently discovered fruit picking, since I never did it as a child; there are no orchards in Muskoka. My cousins, who grew up in Niagara, earned money for many summers picking fruit and I envied them for it. In my eyes, few jobs seemed more satisfying than harvesting fruit that otherwise would go to waste. Fruit season is fleeting in Ontario. It lasts only a few months, from the start of rhubarb in May until apples in October, so I feel an urgency to pick, process, and preserve as much local fruit as possible in that short window of opportunity. Last summer, however, there were no cherries to pick because a late frost tragically killed all the blossoms in April.
The time I spent cherry-picking this afternoon was glorious. I was completely alone, except for a few minutes when a friendly sheep farmer came over to chat about why on earth I’d want so many sour cherries and how he likes to freeze his sweet cherries and eat them in front of the TV in the wintertime. The rest of the time, I worked in silence, enjoying the treasure hunt for the ripest, juiciest cherries and the fact that I didn’t have to keep an eye on two kids at the same time. Mostly, I just daydreamed and felt my grumpy mood improve with every cherry that plopped into my bowl. Picking fruit is good for the soul.
I have grand plans for my bowlfuls of cherries. I want to make strudel with homemade pastry, a cherry lattice-topped pie, and a batch of amazing cherry preserves. And then I intend to eat so many sweet cherries that I won’t want to see another one until next July.