cherries

Too Many Cherries!

Enough with the throwback posts for now – here’s what I’ve been doing recently, and it mainly involves dealing with too many damn cherries. I know things are opening back up, but I haven’t been on public transport since March, and I’m still not super comfortable with the idea, which means museums are out of the question for the time being, since the only one I can walk to is the one I work at, and we’re fortunately not opening for at least another month or two. But Marcus and I did have a commitment in the form of the cherry tree we rent in Sussex that needed to be picked, since ripe cherries wait for no one. Since it was an outdoor activity (obviously), and the orchard said they would enforce social distancing, it seemed like a safe enough outing, so we rented a car last week to make this happen.

We rented a tree in the same orchard last year, and it was such a miserable experience that I told Marcus to never rent one again. It decided to absolutely piss it down the whole time we were picking (and of course the rain stopped as soon as we stopped), so we got drenched and covered in mud, and since we were planning on spending the rest of the day in Brighton and I hadn’t brought a change of clothes, I had to walk around wet and cold for the rest of the day (and with a swollen face, because we visited Marcus’s sister right after we finished picking and I was so allergic to her cat that half my face swelled up).  As if that wasn’t bad enough, we then had to spend days pitting all the bloody cherries, because the problem with renting a tree vs. pick your own is that you can’t just pick what you want, you have to pick the entire damn tree whether you like it or not (and because cherry trees are at risk from an invasive fruit fly that breeds in the cherries themselves, you also have to pick up all the horrible mashed rotting cherries from the ground with your bare hands, which is no picnic). But Marcus clearly didn’t listen to me, and went ahead and rented one anyway, so here we are. This time I was smart and packed a raincoat and a change of clothes because I knew if I was prepared, it wouldn’t rain. I was not wrong.

When we arrived at the orchard, the woman working there greeted us with a cheery, “your tree under-performed this year, so we’ve given you two trees to pick!” as though it would be a treat for me to have to pick a second bloody tree. I was not happy. But we didn’t really have a choice (well, I wanted to go back and tell them we didn’t need the second tree, but Marcus was gung-ho), so we got picking. Normally, if I have to do manual labour with other people, I kind of fart around and do as little work as possible until I’m allowed to leave, but in situations where the work’s not going to get done unless I do it, you better believe I am a fast worker (when I used to work in a brewery, I would occasionally get told I could leave early once I finished a certain amount of work, and I usually finished so much earlier than they thought I would that my boss would attempt to renege on the deal. I hated that place). So I was probably a bit rougher on the trees than I should have been in my haste, but we easily picked the first tree in half an hour and moved on to the second one, which was right next to an older couple picking, despite the promise of social distancing (we were outside, and we were still two metres apart when picking at opposite sides of our respective trees, but I would have been more comfortable with more space). We had picked the other tree first in hopes they would have finished by the time we moved on, but they were clearly taking their time, so we just masked up and got on with it (this did allow me to eavesdrop, and I overheard the woman saying that the cherries keep for three weeks in her pantry, since she doesn’t have a fridge. Who has a pantry but no fridge?! You must be fairly wealthy to have a house big enough to have a pantry (I certainly don’t have a pantry), so why would you not have a fridge too? So bizarre). Unfortunately, this tree had WAY more cherries on it than the first one, and even though about a third of them were rotten (which makes me suspect the real reason we were given it to pick was because the renters didn’t turn up this year), we still had to pick every bloody one, which took about an hour and a half. I suppose at least it didn’t rain this year, but it was too sunny, so even though I slathered on the sunscreen, I was still paranoid that I could feel my skin crisping (as it turns out, I didn’t even slightly tan, because I am really keen on sunscreen. I like to maintain my pasty glow). Towards the end, I felt something drop onto my neck and then down my arm, which I initially thought was just a leaf from the tree until I looked down and discovered it was a daddy longlegs (what British people call harvestmen), which really really freak me out, so it was lucky we were pretty much finished, because that was it for me. I will never be a fan of nature.

Having made it through that ordeal, we then had the fun of processing what was at least 15 kilos of cherries. Last year, I was at least able to pawn some off on people at work, but since I’m working from home at the moment, I couldn’t even do that (I did give some to my friend when I met her to play tennis, but she only wanted a small bag. We offered some to our neighbour, who said he would check with his partner and get back to us, and then never got back to us. Why don’t people want free cherries? They’re delicious in reasonable quantities! I did check to see if we could donate them, but our local food bank doesn’t take fresh fruit, which is understandable). We ate some fresh, but obviously you can only eat so many before doing a Zachary Taylor (who died from stomach troubles after eating cherries and milk on a hot July day), so that meant a whole hell of a lot of them had to be pitted, and we were working against the clock, because no matter what pantry lady says, fresh cherries only last for a week tops, and even that’s pushing it. Because I had to work the day after cherry picking (and I’m lazy), Marcus took on the bulk of the pitting operation, and then froze most of them. I still don’t know what we’re going to do with kilos of frozen cherries, but at least once they’re in the freezer I’m not actively stressed about them rotting (though I am stressed about the lack of freezer space for more important things, like ice cream. I guess I could make cherry ice cream, but I prefer unhealthier flavours like cookies’n’cream).

It doesn’t help that although I love fresh cherries (in moderation), I don’t actually like cooked cherries much (I find they stay too firm, and I don’t care for the texture. I hate cherry pie for that reason), so we have gotten creative with some of the fresh cherries (the variety we picked is Regina, which is a sweet, medium firm burgundy-coloured cherry that makes your hands end up looking bloody after you’ve pitted a bunch). We made cherry jam last year, and I might do it again (though we still have a bit of last year’s, since we’re not huge jam eaters. I tend to prefer blueberry or blackberry if I am going to eat it, but my allegiances primarily lay with peanut butter and lemon curd (though not together, blech)), but for now I just made a small amount of compote that I used in cherry crumble bars (though I should have pureed it, because it still has a bit too much texture for my liking, even though I mashed the cherries. I am very weird about textures).

As mentioned above, I LOVE lemon curd, so Marcus made some cherry curd, which weirdly tastes more like key lime pie filling than cherries, though that isn’t really a problem since I also love key lime pie. And I made some cherry syrup, which we mix with fizzy water to make a very delicious cherry soda. Marcus is also soaking some in gin, but I’m not much of a drinker, so I’m not super keen on that (or any of the other things to do with cherries that involve alcohol). Last year, I just ended up throwing most of them into smoothies (if you mix them with chocolate protein powder and milk, they make a fairly tasty chocolate covered cherry flavoured smoothie. You can toss spinach in to up the nutritional value if you don’t mind it turning a disgusting colour (you can’t taste it, it just looks gross)). Despite all this, we still have far too many cherries, and I’ll probably be trying to use them up until next cherry harvest, since no doubt Marcus will book the tree again regardless of what I say about it!