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Archive for Wednesday, June 10, 1998

LIFE CAN BE OH SO CHERRY

June 10, 1998

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Until the cold front moved through last week, the rhythmic buzz of the cicadas had been with us night and day. At first the vibration, which seems to come at you in waves, had been almost deafening. It then integrated itself into the auditory fabric of life out here in the country so that I found myself having to listen consciously to extract that sound from all the others.

The cicadas first went silent at the end of last week when the temperatures dropped. They resumed their chant during the weekend and then, on Monday, when we received our long-awaited rain, they again took a reprieve. On Monday night, the cicadas' call had been replaced by a chorus of bullfrogs.

The cicadas are still here, and still active, though. We've been seeing quite a bit of them up close because they are stationed by the thousands in the cherry trees in our front yard. This being a magnificent year for cherries, we've been picking fruit from around the cicadas, who have, for the most part, accommodated the intrusion.

This cherry crop is a big event in our household because this is the first real crop we've had on these trees, which my husband planted in 1994. The trees, which have grown to more than 15 feet in height, set blooms last year, only to lose them in the March frost. Given the vagaries of Kansas spring weather, I suspect that we'll lose the crop as often as we'll be able to harvest.

The trees in question are sweet cherries -- one's a Bing, the other's a Black Tartarian, which cross-pollinate. We later planted a self-pollinating Montmorecy, a sour or pie cherry tree, in the backyard but may never see fruit. It, like some apples and a pear we planted on that side of the house, have been ravaged by deer.

Exactly how much we've harvested from our two trees this spring is difficult to say because we have in this household the same problem with cherries that we've had with strawberries -- namely, that the pickers tend to eat more while they pick than they ever bring back to the house.

Once they get their harvest into the kitchen, the pickers also continue to feast over the sink, which poses a mechanical hazard. Despite my most prophetic admonitions, we've already jammed the garbage disposal once on a wayward pit.

Even so, in the past week alone, I've accumulated well over a gallon of cherries in the refrigerator and the clamor has begun for a pie. Anyone who has been down this road before knows what a tedious job is standing in the way of making this Norman Rockwell vision a reality.

Although various devices are available for pitting cherries in bulk, in most of our kitchens cherries must be pitted one by one. In choosing the right tool for the job, we have quite a selection. The paring knife would not be my choice, because you lose too much fruit during surgery.

I've seen spring-loaded contraptions that pop the pit out of the fruit and have read a suggestion that a sturdy, refillable ball-point pen might also serve the same function. The tool I like best is the rounded end of a paper clip, which you can insert into the cherry to grab hold of the pit. Obviously, the riper the cherry, the easier it will be to remove the pit.

Following is a basic recipe for a cherry

See Cherrytime, page 4D

Continued from page 1D

pie the way our grandmothers made it. The fresh fruit should produce enough juice to moisten the filling. (However, you're not likely to achieve the level of gooeyness of a canned filling. If that's what you're after and you still want to use fresh cherries, you'll be better off using a recipe that calls for tapioca or some other filler.)

Using this recipe, you will have to judge the sweetness of your cherries to decide how much sugar to use. The range is 1/4 cup for a pie made with sweet cherries to 1 cup for a sour cherry pie.

Fresh cherry pie

Dough for a two-crust 8-inch pie

1e pit out of the fruit and have read a suggess fresh pitted cherries

2 teaspoons butter

the sugar, flour and salt in a large bowl, add the cherries and toss until well coated. Pile the cherries into the lined pan. Dot the filling with butter. Roll out the top crust, lay it over the pie, crimp and trim the edges and cut vents in the top. Bake for 10 minutes and then reduce the oven crust is lightly browned.

-- When she's not writing about foods and gardening, Gwyn Mellinger is teaching journalism at Baker University. You can send e-mail to her at mellinger

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