On Friday, Jason and I were feeling ambitious. We packed up the kids and headed to the fruit farm. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but quickly became far more difficult and chaotic than I’d anticipated. (Surely I should have figured this out by now, but it never ceases to catch me by surprise.)
The baby, who was asleep when we arrived, began wailing in his car seat as soon as I’d crouched down in the strawberry patch and begun picking. I stopped what I was doing to pack him into the carrier, but he didn’t like that either. I felt a mixture of embarrassment and pity for all the other early-morning pickers in the field who likely hoped for a quiet, efficient morning, yet were being subjected to my hollering 11-week-old son.
Then the older two boys decided that strawberry picking wasn’t for them. They began hurling berries at each other, only to be expelled from the field by their father. They climbed into the car and began honking, but only briefly, because then their father’s threats were sufficient to smarten them up – at least temporarily. They chased each other with a thorny raspberry branch, which ended in bloody scratches, more wails, and two angry shouting parents.
To make matters worse, there were hardly any strawberries in the patch, and the ones there were red on top, white on the bottom. I felt slight panic as I imagined the lack of strawberry jam on my basement shelves for the winter ahead, but that wouldn’t make the berries appear, so I moved on to raspberries. Pickings were still slim, but I managed to get one full bowl.
During that period of time, three-year-old L. needed to make two separate trips to the bathroom (located in a distant barn) and got shocked twice by the electric fence surrounding the pigpen. First time was out of curiosity; second was when he tapped the fence with a flower he’d picked for the pigs. Needless to say, he didn’t want to hang out at the pigpen after that.
Cherries salvaged the trip. Jason and I picked frantically, filling multiple bowls with sweet and sour cherries, while the boys went off to play with the farm kids. We found them tearing around the yard in a golf cart, the 10-year-old driving while the rest of the kids clung onto L. to keep him from falling out. They described the gory details of watching the farm cat eat a dead mouse on the porch. I think they had the most fun they’ve had in a long time.
The cherry pitter was out of commission, which meant that I’ve spent most of the weekend squeezing out sour cherry pits; I’m practically doing it in my sleep. But now there are at least 20 jars of jam in the basement in various combinations of raspberry, strawberry, cherry, and rhubarb, as well as a huge cherry pie in the fridge, so I’m feeling satisfied.
Weekends like this, however, make me respect pioneer women more than ever. Picking and preserving fruit is, for me, something fun; it’s not a necessity, which means that if the combination of crazy kids and poor harvest had resulted in slim pickings on Friday, it wouldn’t have been the end of the world. But imagine living in a time when all summer was spent preparing for winter, and the survival of one’s family depended on such work. I can’t imagine the stress.
Here’s a delicious recipe for Mixed Cherry Conserve:
3/4 cup water
4 cups sour cherries, pitted
4 cups sweet (Bing) cherries, pitted
4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup lemon juice
Scrub lemon; cut off ends. Slice very thinly, then chop coarsely, discarding any seeds. In small saucepan, bring lemon and water to boil; reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 15 minutes or until rind is very tender (almost mushy).
In a large Dutch oven, put cherries. Add 1/2 cup water and cook for 10 minutes or until softened. Add sugar, lemon juice, and lemon mixture. Bring to boil over high heat. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer, stirring frequently, for 40 minutes.
Remove from heat; skim off foam. Pour into hot sterilized half-pint / 250 mL canning jars, leaving 1/4-inch headspace. Seal with prepared sterilized discs and bands. Process in boiling water canner for 10 minutes. (I usually skip this last step, since jars are hot and jam is boiling, and I let them seal up on their own. I’ve never had any issues.) If any jar doesn’t seal, put it in the fridge and use within 1 month.
Makes about 6 cups
Recipe from The Complete Canadian Living Cookbook