Picking Cherries isn’t just for the Birds

bing cherries on the treeA Seattle friend, Barb, reminded me last week that the season for plump sun-drenched Bing cherries is upon us. In her note, she recounted her childhood cherry picking adventures, many of which were not the same, but are very similar to my own.

In her note, Barb said, “Our family had a Bing cherry tree in our front yard, and when I was in Middle School I’d climb the tree seeking a comfortable reading spot within the branches. It was indeed fun to eat my fill of juicy cherries as I enjoyed my favorite teen novel.

“As cherry season progressed, I expended much energy dissuading the birds from pecking at the most prime cherries by shaking the tree branches, throwing twigs their way and tossing rain-split cherries to scare them away.

“When there were more ripe cherries than I could eat on my own, my brothers and I would pick bucketfuls of the bright beauties using a fruit picking ladder that swayed precariously in the summer breeze. Grandmother baked our favorite cherry cobblers and crisps that bubbled over in the oven with thick sweet-smelling cherry juice.”

Barb said her family canned about 50 quarts of cherries every summer and they preserved ample amounts of Bing cherry jam to give as gifts during the holidays, all of which was provided by a single Bing cherry tree.

For Barb, the memory of popping the lid off a jar of cherry jam at Christmastime was, “a fresh fruit-filled breath of summertime I shall never forget.”

Her note reminded me of similar cherry picking experiences from when I was a youngster. Our neighbors had a gargantuan Bing cherry tree in their back yard. The tree was old with gnarled branches, yet it was still a fine producer of succulent cherries. The irresistible clusters hung high above our heads, just out of reach, yet so close.

“I don’t want you girls climbing in the cherry tree, it’s dangerous! You’re going to end up splitting your head open or breaking an arm.” Mom warned my cousin, Linda, and I every summer. It seemed however, that such warnings directed toward two 10-year-old tomboys was nothing more than a tip-off that said the cherries were ripe for picking.

We had our share of unreported narrow escapes during our cherry picking escapades but one year Linda fell from a brittle branch and broke her left arm.

We tried denying that we were in the cherry tree but Mom said, “A little birdie told me otherwise!” In those days, it was one of Mom’s favorite phrases. Linda and I hated that bird and privately we schemed to pelt the “birdie” with rotten cherries if we ever caught the feathered snitch who was squealing on us.

The scolding for climbing in the cherry tree was a bit more severe that year, but I think all-in-all Mom knew that raiding the cherry tree was something red-blooded kids couldn’t resist.

Like Barb’s family, my mom canned Bing cherries in the more prolific years, and later I carried on the tradition when raising my own children. There was nothing like opening a big jar of Bing or Royal Anne cherries to celebrate winter’s first snowfall.

To my recollection, no one in our family ever made cherry jam, but Barb’s memory of Bing cherry jam spirited me into the kitchen for a jam making experiment.

Success! My recipe below for Bing cherry jam bursts with a full fruity flavor that captures the sweetness of summer cherries. Its pleasing hint of almond, cloves and cinnamon makes it nothing less than spectacular. When placed on the pantry shelf, the jars glint like sunlit stained glass, which sparked thoughts of those shiny dark cherry clusters that teased me from a high limb as a child.

These jewels are perfect for gift giving. Just make sure you save at least one jar of “summer memories” to pile high on hot buttered corn meal muffins.

bing cherry jam

Bing Cherry Jam

4 cups ripe Bing cherries, pitted and chopped
1 (1.75 ounce) package powdered pectin
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 1-fluid ounce bottle almond extract
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
4 cups granulated sugar
6 pint jars with 6 lids and 6 bands, sterilized

Except for the 4-cups granulated sugar, place all ingredients in a 6-quart kettle. Bring fruit mixture to a full rolling boil on high-medium heat; immediately add sugar. Return mixture to a full rolling boil and continue cooking for an additional 2 minutes, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant spatula or wooden spoon to prevent scorching. Remove from heat and skim foam from mixture using a large metal spoon.

Pour hot jam into hot jars, leaving 1/4-inch space. Add lids and screw bands on tightly. Process jam for 10 minutes in a water bath canner or cool overnight and then place in freezer until ready to serve. Yield: 5 to 6 half-pints

Cook’s Note: This recipe is also delicious when tart “pie” cherries are used in place of the sweet Bing cherries. Consider increasing the granulated sugar by at least 1-cup possibly more when using the tart cherries.

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