Cherries jubilee

It sounded like a fun little outing, going to our friend’s aunt’s house, an hour away, to pick cherries. I think of things like picking strawberries, down at one’s feet, where I can walk away whenever I think I have enough, or picking blueberries, right at torso height and brambleless.

Cherry picking is not those things. And one cherry tree has something like a gazillion pieces of fruit on it. Such was it that a couple who showed up—in response to the aunt’s mass email announcement—walked away with 150 pounds of cherries, and I couldn’t tell which part of the tree had been hit. Getting the fruit out of the tree entailed extremely high, rickety metal ladders, which, given the knee issues of mine, Susanne forbade me to climb, and plastic buckets we were supposed to string around our necks so we could pick with two hands.

The aunt and her sister chuckled quietly as we walked toward the tree, thinking that these city folk would be poor farmers. Susanne, however, proved them wrong, getting her little body in between large branches heavy with cherries, double fisting clumps of berries and quickly accumulating several full buckets. We joked that she was a migrant farmer in a past life, and if the political science professing career dried up, we’d be just fine with her picking prowress.

I, meanwhile, thought the tree was quite the pugilist, and I came away with several scrapes on my arms and torso as if I’d gone five rounds with the thing. For my part I hauled in something on the order of 8 quarts, certainly laughable by the aunts’ standards. They sat on their porch  smoking cigarettes and drinking Mexican beer as dusk overtook us. Aunt Maureen—affectionately called Mo—is quite the antiques collector, and her home is filled with old things, especially kitch from the 1930s and 40s. Our friend warned us before we walked in that she has a lot of “Aunt Jemima stuff,” which amounted to dolls in black face, framed sheet music about “how funny the Negroes are,” and old Amos ‘n Andy stills.

“Aunt Mo has a funny sense of humor,” our friend said, in summary.

We therefore ignored the offensive portion of the antiques in Mo’s house, and considered them an unfortunate piece of American history, artifacts of a time when people were more openly, though not necessarily more, racist.

Mo was not afraid of new technology, her love of things archaic notwithstanding. Perhaps it was just that gadgets needed to have proper motivation. For example, her cat, Sharon, had both a locator microchip implanted in her neck, and a “finder collar” that was wirelessly connected to a button Mo could push to show her where the cat was in space. This would have been only a small point of interest except for the fact that the feline did go missing later that evening. And then we identified the flaw in the cat radar screen: walking up to where the cat should have been, there was no Sharon. It was like the scene in Aliens when Riley is looking at the green blip, knowing she should be right on top of the thing, but there’s no alien.

Or is there?

Sure enough, Sharon had taken solace directly above where we had gathered. Turns out she had a bad tooth and wanted nothing more than to alleviate her pain, and barring that, figured hiding under her caregiver’s bed was her next best bet. So kudos to the cat finder company: they’ve gone and taken very useful technology and morphd it into something only a crazy pet owner would desire.

After a summer meal of salmon, corn on the cob, fruit salad, and rhubarb crisp, we took the cherries to the car, realizing we’d picked about 50 pounds worth. Aunt Mo was grateful to have people harvest the tree so that she didn’t have a rotting mess on her lawn come next week. Getting home, we made every kind of cherry everything: dried cherries, preserved cherries in syrup, cherry preserves, liquor-infused cherries, cherry ice cream, and cherry pie and for the love of Pete, we still have a boatload in our kitchen.

So chalk one up for Walla Walla, having lots of summer produce for us to pluck out of trees, and teaching us about 19th Century food preservation. Next up, skinning a wild boar and using the hide to make moccasins.

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