Cherry-picking has become a family bonding experience – and a practical zero-waste food storage tactic.
Come mid-summer, my family has a ritual that we never miss – picking cherries at a local fruit farm. If we time it right, we get the end of the sour cherries and the start of the sweet cherries, and there's still plenty of both.
My husband and I started doing it when the kids were toddlers, and then it was a challenge. We had to keep track of them in the cherry orchard while also trying to fill as many bowls with fruit as we could. But now that they're older, they throw themselves into the task with a surprising amount of gusto, waxing poetic about the treasure troves of cherries that they find in hard-to-reach spaces.Because they are cherries – and not blueberries or raspberries – the bowls fill up quickly, giving the kids a sense of accomplishment, which in turn motivates them to keep going (except when they're distracted by a flock of wandering chickens, which, let's be honest, who can resist?). Within an hour of working at a fairly relaxing pace, we can fill 6-7 big mixing bowls of fruit.
The next step is another highlight of the outing. We lug the bowls into the barn, where an enormous old cherry pitter is chugging and clanking away. We wash the cherries with a hose, then dump the bowlfuls down a chute, where they fall into place in neat little rows. As the pitter works, it pops out the pits, drains off the excess water, and drops the cherries back into their bucket. The kids are awed and mesmerized by the ancient machine.
Once home, I spend the rest of the afternoon spreading cherries on a baking tray and freezing them individually, then transferring to a container. These will get used in baked goods, sauces, and protein shakes for the rest of the season. Some are turned into jam, strudel, pie, and whatever else I might be craving in the moment.
I maintain this tradition for so many reasons. It's satisfying to support a local family-owned farm and to show my kids where food comes from, while giving them a tiny sense of how much work is involved with feeding oneself. I also like paying significantly less for top-quality fruit than I do for imported fruit at the store; plus, there's zero waste generated by picking and freezing my own.
Picking one's own fruit isn't for everyone, and I certainly can't do it for all the fruit we eat, but it's a fun tradition that we all look forward to. Give it a try if you haven't already!