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Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Cherry Season In The Cherry City

Pitted Organic Sweet Cherries destined for the dehydrator.
These have sat in a acsorbic acid bath for 5 minutes first.
A few ways you can tell it's harvest season at our house (beyond the obvious cherry stained fingers, the hum of the food dehydrator and the rumble of the water-bath-canner) include a leaning pile of unfolded laundry, floors going unswept, dishes going unwashed and most meal plans don't go beyond leftovers and sliced raw veggies.

While our house may be in disarray at present our stores of winter goods have grown by a weeks worth of picking and processing evenings.  It may not sound that substantial but for us this is a moment to be commemorated; our first cherry season since moving to The Cherry City.

Jim and William Picking in the commercial orchard
opened to grateful Salem Harvest Volunteers
Our first windfall of cherries came with a generous invite from a co-worker to pick the remaining cherries from her over producing tree.  Never ones to turn down free food we rushed to her house after work and after a delightful evening up a tree we returned loaded with many pounds of sweet juicy cherries, a pint of blueberries and a large bag of almonds. (Yes almonds can grow in Salem! It was news to me too)

The next day, while our cooler sat full of cherries waiting to be pitted and processed, we received notice of another harvest scheduled for the very next night. When Jim and I discussed this harvest he pointed out that it was on his birthday, I paused and, not unlovingly, replied "I guess that's what happens when you're born during cherry season." So we made plans to pick again with a cooler full of fruit and a birthday looming.

That night we pitted, bathed in asorbic acid, filled the dehydrator to over flowing and froze the remaining haul in two large zip-locks.

Jim pitting our haul with William and Bud's "help"
The next evenings harvest was a Salem Harvest event.  This fantastic gleaners group coordinates volunteers to pick unwanted crops and donate half to Marion-Polk Food Share.  The harvest was very popular with families and I really enjoyed seeing other moms with young tots and the older kids stretching to their tiptoes to reach the next sweet red morsel.

The plan for these sweet little Queen Anne Cherries was to can them for winter pastries. So the next night we dusted off our water-bath-canner reviewed our food preservation books (we're a little out of practice since Williams birth) and after a call to both mother and grandmother for extra fruit canning tips we dived in hands first.  Canning always feels so much simpler than I think it will be and setting up the pitting, washing and canning area in the garage instead of the kitchen is FANTASTIC!

The biggest surprise to me was that to dry fruit or veggies correctly (according to Preserving The Harvest) after running the fruit in the dehydrator for the recommended time (and temp) we must then "cure" the dried fruit in a non-reactive open container stored in a warm dry place.  The dry fruit must be stirred 1-2 times per day for 7-14 days.  Then the final step is to pasteurize the dry fruit by cooking briefly in a cool over or spending a few days in the freezer.  We will report the detailed results later, but I can tell you from the few I've been seeking into my oatmeal in the morning, the results are delicious.

The end result of our week of harvesting is

  • Approximately 10 cups of dried organic sweet cherries "curing" on Jim's dresser destined for muffins and oatmeal (or possible to be smothered in melted dark chocolate and given as christmas gifts
  • About 4 "pies-worth"(official measurement) of organic sweet cherries in the freezer (which may end up in the dehydrator if I can't find the trick to baking an acceptable cherry pie)
  • 7 quarts of Queen Anne cherries in light syrup
  • 1 edible but not stupendous cherry pie (made with a coconut oil pastry crust,  Queen Anne and sweet black cherries)

Not bad for our first cherry season in the Cherry City, and a stupendous way to begin the season of unwashed floors and dirty knees.

Queen Anne cherries in light syrup, processed in a
water-bath-canner, they really loose their color
Organic sweet cherries ready to be dried in our basic food dehydrator

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