I don’t bake a lot, but when an opportunity nearly cherry drops into my lap, I’m not going to pass it up. This week was our 14th wedding anniversary and we celebrated with homemade cherry pie and this is how it came to be.
Day 1 – Notice that it’s only going to be about 75 degrees and invite the kids on a bike ride to their favorite oversized cottonwood tree. It is across an empty field and near a wooded little creek by our house that always reminds me of “Bridge to Terabithia.” There must be some ingenious tweens that live nearby because every time we visit this tree there is something new to discover. We’ve encountered rope swings, tire swings that extend over the creek, we’ve noticed railroad ties in the tree for climbing (too far apart for my kids to reach) and this time there was a shovel and lots of little mounds where these mysterious play makers had built a series of bike jumps in the field.
My kids love to throw rocks in the creek, think about how old the tree must be and generally just screw around in the open area. It is good, clean, outdoor fun and as long as we check for ticks afterwards from the tall grass everyone is happy. On this particular visit, my 4 year old wandered up-creek farther than he has before and then yelled, “Can I eat these?”
That usually gets my attention pretty quickly. So we looked and indeed, there was something there that looked exactly like a cherry tree. It was literally hanging with ripe fruit. Little yellowish, reddish spheres of promised sweetness. But, cherries not being my specialty (I’m better on berry identification) I wouldn’t let him eat any. We picked three of the cherries and a couple of leaves to bring home and identify.
Day 2 – About mid-day I remembered that the cherries and leaves were still in the bike basket. Before the kids remembered them, I grabbed them and did a few Google searches. Poisonous cherries, yellow cherries, cherry identification, choke cherries… And I learned we had discovered a Rainier Cherry tree! Perfect for pies because of their tartness.
I also ate one of the three, just to test. Yes, tart. Now to see if it kills me in my sleep.
Day 3 – I woke up in the morning ALIVE after eating a strange fruit. Must be safe. After an errand or two, we revisited the cherry tree with a bucket. The lesson here is that cherries are hard to pick. They don’t just fall off in your hands. They require actual dexterity to pull the stem off the tree without crushing the tender cherry. By the time we had enough, we were sticky through and through. Next I sat at the kitchen table and took stems off and pits out and thought pioneer thoughts the entire time. “Laura Ingalls Wilder probably did this. I’m doing it, too!” She probably actually knew what she was doing though. I was just slicing and dicing as the cherry juice sprayed me in the face and hoping I threw the pits in the right bowl (because cherry pits are poisonous I learned). Pretty sure I would not have survived as a pioneer.
My 4-year-old helped me mix the pie fixings and we made a crumb top with extra butter. And later that night we celebrated with delicious pie. I know the saying is ‘As American as Apple Pie’ but this homemade cherry pie felt pretty celebratory to us.