We have a big old cherry tree in our garden. It stands proud, probably getting on for 12metres (40feet) high and guarding the entrance to our orchard. There are three walnut trees in the orchard as well, but even they, who are probably over a hundred years old, even they don’t seem as majestic as that cherry.
It’s an eating cherry, a beautiful big red, almost black, cherry. Every year since we moved here four years ago, we have been helped by the young daughter of one of our neighbours to pick the cherries, usually collecting about 10 to 15 kilos (20 to 30 lbs) of sweet ripe red cherries. Actually, we probably pick a lot more than that but that is the amount which make it back to the kitchen – the rest getting eaten on the way!
Once in the kitchen this gorgeous fruit has been turned into wonderful dishes. Of course, at harvest time a great number are just piled into the fruit bowl and eaten throughout the day. My neighbour’s kid also usually gets to take a big bowlful home which they eat over the next few days.
Then some are put into bags and frozen. They will be pulled out from the freezer throughout the coming year to use in all sorts of dishes or even just allowed to thaw and then eaten in their own juice.
Clafoutis, is a traditional dish made with cherries in a sort of custard batter which is very popular in this part of France. The dish is normally made with whole cherries because the pits add a special taste to the dish during baking. I actually make it with whole cherries because the one time I depitted the cherries, the cherry juice stained the batter and made the whole thing look almost inedible – but of course, in France, it’s the taste!
The rest of the cherries are made into cherry jam. I try and do this on the same day the cherries are picked but don’t always succeed. I also make a second batch of cherry jam about now, just as the new fruit is coming to harvest, using up all the left over frozen cherries from last year. I’m not sure whether I can taste the difference.
As I do every Saturday morning, I went to market last Saturday and there, on our greengrocers stall was cerises pays – cherries harvested locally, and it reminded me that it was time to be thinking about harvesting my own.
During last week I checked my cherry tree.. I took this picture of it back in March when it was just coming into blossom and subsequently it filled with crisp white cherry blossom.
Rather than finding 10 to 15 kilos of cherries waiting to be picked, I found about 10 to 15 cherries!
Suggestions from the local French sages who garden are that the weather during spring was so awful the bees couldn’t pollinate the tree properly. It was very, very wet, it was very, very windy and they would be buffeted and knocked off course as they tried to collect the pollen.
Another idea is that the huge drop in the bee population is being seen in failed crops.
But one of my neighbours solved the riddle when he said to me. (In a thick French accent) “Those bees, they are wise you know? They wake up in their hives and look out of the window. It is blowing a gale, it is pouring down with rain, so they simply roll back into bed and snuggle down under their blankets”
Well wouldn’t you?
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