Gathering Dreams for Pie
I called the orchard on Thursday and they said they had them. I took the bus to the Barn after work on Friday. The Barn is a stone’s throw from the orchard. We stopped at the shop at the bottom of the hill early on Saturday.
“I’m here to pick sours.”
“Yup, we’ve got em. Drive up the hill. They’ll tell where.”
Up the hill the young man was surprised we wanted so many baskets.
“That way. There’s a sign.”
Past the strawberry fields (filled with happy toddlers and confused fathers) and rows of baby apples we walked, and up the softly winding grassy road. And there finally, the cherry trees to the right. That certain shape of leaf, that certain glossy green, the clumps of red fruit bending the red-brown boughs. But not our quarry. These were sweet. Joan tasted several handfuls to be sure. Then finally the sign.
“Tart Cherries this 1/2 row”
Picked clean. Picked clean save two or three bright red cherries on the highest boughs. They might as well have been bluebirds. We walked to the end of the orchard hoping to find another stand of sours. But there were none. So we returned our many baskets and made our way to the car where I called last year’s orchard (a larger operation, but farther from Joan’s place).
Click here for a brief summary of Saturday.
Sunday we got out the gate early, driving through the Catskills towards the Hudson and North to Newburgh.
“Strawberries” and “Cherries” the plaques below them promised. “Cherries!” Joan and I squealed.
We were the fifth car in the sprawling grass parking lot. Joan flirted with the orange-vested man who told us where to park. We had fresh donuts and and coffee first at the picnic table overlooking the rolling mountains around us. And then the presiding bull mastiff, as big as a donkey, crouched and peed on the beautiful rolling lawn before us. “Let’s get picking,” I said. So we went to the bucket man.
“We’re here for sours.”
He nodded, “You have a short walk.” He pointed to two trees on the lawn of the farm’s big house and pushed two buckets towards us. “Lots of people get carried away. Remember that each bucket holds about 12 pounds of fruit. Pick only as much as you’re willing to buy. The sours are there,” he said, pointing again to the two trees in the median strip of the drive.
“Um, last year you had two rows of sours up the hill. What about them?” I said insistently. Bucket man was shaking his head at my impudence.
“Yeah, we just opened them up this morning,” interrupted the mansplainer’s colleague. And then the colleague said those magical words:
“You’ll be the first ones on ’em.”
Then he left Bucket man to give his intricate directions to us (but of course I already knew where to go). We coaxed three buckets from him and sprinted up the hill.
There was no doubt which trees bore the sours. The branches dripped with thousands of bright red gems, like Swarovsky crystals on green ball gowns. We started picking and stripped the sunny side of the first two or three trees of the ripest low hanging fruit. Soon families with children were dropped off by tractor wagons a couple rows away. They came to joined us but left after tasting the tartness of the fruit.
It was after I filled my first bucket that the Russian couple showed up. The wife barked at the husband who growled back. They must have agreed finally on their line of attack. But Joan and I generously allowed them in. There were so many cherries! And eventually I gave up the first few trees to them moving further down the row and away from the husband’s remarkable body odor.
The fruit was glistening and clean, washed by Saturday night’s little rain storm. But my hands were sticky towards the end. We headed down the hill when we filled the third five gallon bucket. All in all, it took us about an hour to pick twenty-five pounds of sours. “Pies,” I said to the wide-eyed woman at the register. “You must be popular,” she laughed.
Forty or fifty minutes of road gossip later, Joan and I were back at the barn. I made pastry while she made hamburgers. Then I pitted a couple pounds of cherries. After lunch, I baked the pie.
The first pie was hurriedly assembled hence, a little puffier than ideal, but glorious smelling. We tried to allow it to cool.
It takes a year to forget what it tastes like. So tart and sweet and flaky and buttery. And the first of many.