We reached batch 21, jar 71 tonight in the canning of the 41st pound of cherries. Canning has overtaken everything in the house, the garage and the cars. There is a real sense of accomplishment watching the jars line up on the dining room table. I keep track of things by how much we need to “put by” to use through the winter.
In “Three Cheers for Pickled Beets” I wrote about the novelty and the portentousness of putting food up for the winter after being without a place to count on being in for summer to winter. I don’t think that putting up so much food is compensation for not being able to put it up the past two years when we did not have a house due to the wildfire. I do think it is planting us firmly in this house though.
I thought I knew my kitchen. I designed it, shopped for the appliances, made cabinets from stock, unfinished ones, and even finished the floors. What I did not know is how the reality of the kitchen meet with what I intended to be. We had more than a few flubs with the kitchen and while we worked around each of them we had some whoppers. I have written about them. We had the stone counter top problems and we had the problem of the too-snug fit of the dishwasher. All of those faded away into pure sublime happiness once we really started cooking in our kitchen.The kitchen worked the way it was supposed to work.
I spent a lot of time thinking about how this kitchen would work and how to make it safe. It had to be compact so we did not have to carry heavy or hot things far but it had to be really spacious so we could do a lot of cooking. You should always have an easy reach to a counter edge for helping maintain balance as we age and there should be landing zones for anything that needs to be moved. The kitchen is exactly the way I wanted it. Nothing is more than one step away and there is always a landing zone and a balancing point. The island is the thing that makes it work. The island is only slightly smaller in square feet than the kitchen we have in our little basement apartment where we lived for months. I did not intend for it to be so large, nor would I ever have designed it square but making one from left-over stock cabinets forced me into a token island or a really big one. We got a really big one. I am really glad that we did. There is room for everyone at our island. Cooks and spectators alike.
There was room for 66 pounds of cherries this week. We have put up over 40 pounds of them and the rest will go into chocolate cherry jam, some cherry pie filling, a bit of cherry – jalapeno chutney and the last will be dried. Maybe we can finish tomorrow but it may be one more day beyond.
The cherries have been a great adventure. Monday, August 11, was our one year anniversary of being full time in Montana. The cherries that grow in Northwest Montana are among the world’s great fruits. We went yesterday to a U-Pick cherry orchard that has been growing cherries in the same family for over 70 years.
We got a late start since I had been sluggish with allergies and a crummy night’s sleep. Rather than be overly stressed, we just packed a picnic lunch, water and a biscuit for the dog, the empty boxes the canning jars came in and off we went. Being summer, aka road-construction season, if we went by highway we could “expect long delays.” We decided to take back roads and spend our time spread out at a lower speed than go-and-wait construction driving.
The drive to the orchard was gorgeous. Finding the orchard was a little challenging. The directions on their website were very detailed and included things like, “at the top of the rise, ease to the left and drop over the hill and you will see a stone cairn to your left. Go right.” I printed them out and somehow we only managed to being the first page that said, “drive south past town and turn left at Angel Point Road.” We sort of had that first bit down. It was the turn right at the cairn on the left that had us wondering.
We made a few guesses along the way but we found the orchard, and the cairn too. We were the only pickers so it was very quiet and beautiful. The family who own the orchard were helpful and just attentive enough. We enjoyed being with each other and the day and the cherry picking without having to worry if someone was watching you pick off their tree.
Having not picked cherries before we had no idea what was involved. I knew it could mean being messy so we wore old clothes. I worried about getting sunburned and when we got picking we realized that the same branches that were laden with cherries were also the same branches that sheltered us from the sun while we picked. Our dog lolled about under the tree generally looking irritated that there were cherries, not chickens falling from the sky plopping down around her now and again.
The ladders were specially designed orchard ladders that are like a flared staircase. They have long poles off the back that are used to balance the ladder like a tripod leaning on the tree. They are very sturdy. We each had buckets (in my case a paint bucket–they gave my spouse a real bucket) and they pointed to the cherries. It was as simple as that. Step up on the ladder-stairs, put your hand up and watch the cherries fall into your bucket. In just about an hour we had picked 66 pounds of lush, ripe Lambert cherries. At $1.00 per pound.
After picking we had lunch on the grass by the lake.
When we got home we put up the first batch of cherry preserves. The cherries are so juicy I have had to reserve out juice to get the recipes to work. As a result we have a few quarts of cherry juice. I had planned to make jelly, then to can it as juice and then I found a recipe for Cherry Shrub. Cherry shrub was popular with the colonists but seems to have lost popularity since the late 1800s. Martha Washington mentions it in her housekeeping diaries. While simple, it is sublime. You make cherry syrup and mix it with rum and brandy. It has to age to take on the smooth, even flavors associated with good cordial but we were more than willing to give up a little smoothness for the taste test today. I literally had to take the sample away from us. It was so yummy but brandy, rum and work don’t go too well together so we capped the shrub to let it age for Christmas gifts.
We made cherry-balsamic vinegar too. I put the aging cherries in quart jars. Two of Cherry Shrub and four of cherry-balsamic vinegar. They all look the same. It was my intention that we would have to slow down and look at which jar was who so we could not just wiz by and grab a snack of Cherry Shurb. There is always the risk of getting the vinegar.
Linking food to space is powerful. Putting food by requires that one ponders the food and the place it will wait until you are ready to eat. For us, linking our food and our space means we have a place in the world that is uniquely our space, it is our home. It is the home where we filled the jars and it is the home where we will eat from the jars. In those jars we see through winter into spring.