My first chore was a very (or rather, cherry) good chore: Harvest cherries to make cherry juice. And as the cherries have worms (more on that later) it was easy just to pick the cherries and not eat them all as I went along, as I would have done otherwise*.
The tree in question is 30-40 feet tall and began life 40 years ago as a “volunteer” from the neighbour’s tree which was felled nearly 40 years ago. And from my memory, I don’t think the original tree was nearly as large! Whilst it is very large, it lives in the far back corner of the property, so it isn’t in the way. And that means it has been allowed to live all these years – providing both fruit and shade, as required. And at 30-40 feet tall, you can imagine just how much of both it provides!
Indeed, there are so many cherries that one of the challenges to this chore was not to just pick, pick, pick all day long. And it was even harder to not strip the tree clean. I can sometimes be a little obsessive and I wanted to pick all the cherries. I wanted to pick so many cherries that Daddy would have homemade cherry juice for years to come.
But I had to be reasonable. It was far too hot to be out there all day every day. And Daddy doesn’t need 50 jars of juice. Especially when there will be more cherries to harvest next year for a fresh batch.
And so, I committed myself to just enough cherries for one batch of juice. Which was still a lot of cherries, just not all the cherries.
The harvest took place over a couple of days. To keep the fruit fresh, each day’s harvest was put in a very large ice chest with reusable ice packs that could be swapped out each day. I knew the picking was done once the chest was more than halfway filled.
On canning day, I began by washing the fruit and removing any stems and leaves that made their way into the harvest – along with any fruit that was not up to our standards. (Which, given the worms in the fruit tells you a bit about our standards.) At the same time, I loaded the jars into the dishwasher so that they would be clean (and hot) when we were ready to fill them.
Daddy then set up the juicer on the stovetop and prepared the electric water bath. The folks had purchased it a couple of years before, but Mum died before they had a chance to use it. So, this was its first time out of the box. And I will admit that it took us far too long to figure out how to use it – especially given our combined intelligence and skillsets. In the end, I feel like we missed something in the instructions. However, the instructions (and related illustrations) were very confusing. It’s almost as if they were a translation of a translated translation! But I digress…
The juicing process was the longest part of the day. But it was also easy as the machine did most of the work – we just needed to be ready with pitchers to drain the juice into when the reservoir filled up. Once we got as much juice as we could from the fruit, I took the cherry dregs back out to the tree to dump them around the base. The flesh and seeds will provide plenty of nutrients to ensure there is another good crop next summer!
In the end, we had seven pint-and-a-half jars for the pantry and enough for a couple of glasses for us to enjoy fresh. Dad can get two servings from each jar which means he can enjoy 14 glasses of juice in the coming months. I’m a little sad that I won’t get to enjoy all the juice, but I am extremely glad that I was able to do this for Dad so that he can enjoy the juice. And maybe one day, I’ll have a cherry tree of my own and I can make more than enough juice to keep my thirst quenched.
Oh, the worms! As I am sure you’ve been curious about them by now, I better explain…
There is often a little debate in my home community about home-grown cherries as most of them have worms. The worms are the larvae of cherry fruit flies from eggs that were laid on the cherry blossoms. They are so small that you are unlikely to even see them. And, importantly, they are not dangerous to human health.
Of course, the Ick Factor means that I am not willing to eat the cherries raw, fresh from the tree. However, many (most) of the worms make their way out when the cherries are soaked and washed prior to processing. The rest remain inside the fruit and any ickiness is processed out of them when they are steamed for long periods of time for the juicing process – and we don’t use the pulp, just the juice.
And that means there are no worms in the juice… but I do acknowledge that there will be some worm protein in there. But Daddy likes protein and is happy for that little extra worm protein to be in the cherry juice.
It is possible to grow worm-free cherries, but that requires tenting the tree and using massive amounts of chemicals to prevent the flies from laying eggs in the first instance. So, the option is worms, which are not hazardous to human health, or poison. I’ll pass on the poison, thank you.
Also, other than the worms, which are part of the fruit in a way, there are no additives in this juice. Nope, it’s just cherries with some water mixed in from the steaming process. That means these jars are simply cherry goodness which is cherry good!
* I vividly remember being a child picking raspberries for Grandpa: One for the bucket, one for me; one for the bucket, three for me; one for the… never mind, I’ll just eat them all. And then, I would be sick.